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Calif. Considers Iran Divestment Bill
Kenneth R. Timmerman
Wednesday, March 28, 2007

 The California Assembly will hear proposed legislation on Wednesday that will require state pension funds to divest from companies that do business with Iran.

Introduced two months ago by Assemblyman Joel Anderson, R-Cajun, and Jose Solorio, D-Anaheim, Assembly Bill 221 will come before the Committee on Public Safety tomorrow, where several prominent Iranian-American activists have announced they will testify in support of the measure.

The California bill is the first of its kind in the nation, but already has served as a model for similar legislation introduced in state legislatures in Massachussetts and Maryland. Legislators in Georgia and Ohio have indicated they also plan to introduce divestment bills in the coming weeks that target Iran.

Missouri State Treasurer Sarah Steelman says she took unilateral steps to bar state funds from investing in companies that did business with terrorist states last year after she learned that BNP Paribas, the largest French bank, was making large loans to Iran.

"We kicked them off our broker-dealer list and put in place policies that said we won't do business with companies that do business in Iran," she said.

Earlier this month, U.S. Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R, Fla., and Tom Lantos, D-Calif., introduced federal legislation that would require all U.S. government pension funds to divest stock of companies that had invested more than $20 million in Iran's oil and gas sector.

California's gigantic state pension funds, CalPERS and CalSTRS, have invested around $24 billion in companies doing business in Iran, according to figures released by Conflict Securities, a private consulting group that has created the first "terror-free" stock fund.

 Anderson said he was "shocked to learn that we are invested in companies doing business in Iran. It's not a good policy to be invested in a country that's trying to kill us."

After September 11, the U.S. government took action to seize bank accounts and assets belonging to terrorist groups, Anderson noted. "Why? Because money is the mother's milk of terrorism. Terrorists require money to pay for safe harbors, training, logistical support, false documentation, and of course weapons," he said.

Support for Anderson's legislation has been flooding in from the Iranian-American community, from women's rights activists to ultra-nationalists.

Not surprisingly, groups close to the Tehran regime have opposed the legislation. ""Instead of ratcheting-up pressure, we need state and local leaders to call on Washington to step up dialogue between the two countries," said Shervin Boloorian, legislative director of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC).

Pro-business lobbyist William Reinsch, who as undersecretary of Commerce during the Clinton administration loosened export controls on the sale of strategic goods to Communist China, also opposes the legislation.

 "We're going to destroy our relations with the very countries we need in a united front against Iran,'" Reinsch told Bloomberg News recently. Roozbeh Farahanipour was a leader of the July 1999 student uprising in Tehran, and will travel from Los Angeles to Sacramento tomorrow to present testimony in favor of the legislation.

In the crackdown that followed the student protests, Farahanipour and thousands of other pro-democracy activists in Tehran and other cities were arrested, beaten and tortured.

Because he was a writer, his jailors paid particular attention to his hands, breaking his fingers repeatedly. After long months held incommunicado, Farahanipour was released on bail and managed to escape to the United States in 2001.

Farhanipour will tell the Committee on Wednesday some of the lessons he and other pro-democracy activists learned from the 1999 uprising, he told Newsmax in an exclusive preview of his testimony.

One of those lessons was that the pro-democracy movement "needs support from the outside," he said. "This proposed legislation is one form of support that we welcome with all our hearts."

He pointed out that Iranian intelligence officers are today murdering U.S. soldiers in Iraq, and that Iran has again started to seize foreign hostages.

"Your legislation sends an important message to the Iranian people, and to the clerical regime," Farahanipour said. "Your legislation clearly shows that the people of California will not sit back and allow their retirement savings to buy technology and bring fresh capital to a regime of murderers and hostage-takers in Tehran."

Others scheduled to testify include Dr. Taghi Alereza, chairman of the board of SOS Iran, the Iran of Tomorrow Movement and Mr. Hassan Sadri, President of the Iranian-American Chamber of Commerce in Sacramento. Comments in support of the legislation have come in from Iranian groups as far away as Norway.

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