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Legislators hear calls for Iran divestment

Posted: November 4, 2011 - 12:07am

Iran’s nuclear ambitions and support for terrorism are a threat to the nation and world, and Alaska should play a role in stemming that threat, legislators were told Thursday.

Iran is aggressively seeking nuclear weapons, and if it is successful, the country could have a dramatic effect on the Middle East, the U.S. and the world, said Akiva Tor, with the Israeli Foreign Ministry and based in the Consul General’s Office in San Francisco.

“This is not just a regional bully, but a regional bully with the ultimate weapon” if it is successful, Tor said.

Sen. Bill Wielechowksi, D-Anchorage, and Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, introduced bills during the last legislative session requiring state investment funds such the Alaska Permanent Fund to divest themselves from investments in companies that support Iran’s oil and gas sector.

The strategy of the U.S. government and other Iranian opponents is to target the oil wealth with which Iran funds its activities.

The federal bar on direct investments has already had an impact, but a broader effort is now needed, Tor said.

“The price of oil has risen and this has largely offset the effect of international sanctions on Iran,” he said.

Iran needs foreign investment to keep its oil and gas production up, but there’s a growing movement among states to block secondary investments in foreign companies that support the Iranian industry.

That can be done without harming the local oil and gas industry, Wielechowski said. Texas public and teacher retirement funds already have such divestment laws, and haven’t hurt the industry there, he said.

The teleconferenced “Lunch & Learn” meeting Thursday also heard from Greg Furbish, a U.S. Army operations officer and senior intelligence analyst in Alaska.

Iranian-backed Shia terrorists in Iraq have been implicated in multiple attacks on U.S. troops, and have been trying to expand their country’s influence in Iraq, and elsewhere in the Middle East, he said.

National security analyst Michael Makovsky warned other issues, such as the Arab awakening, were taking the attention of the country and the world away from the Iranian nuclear threat, and praised Alaska’s efforts toward divestment.

“On national security, to me it is Iran, and everything else is secondary,” he said.

Makovsky is foreign policy director of the Bipartisan Policy Center, founded by former U.S. senators such as Bob Dole and Tom Daschle.

Kerttula said the bills would make sure Alaska’s investments didn’t contribute to helping the country’s enemies.

“The fundamental goal is to not have Alaska invest its funds in companies that uphold a regime that threatens the world,” she said.

Alaska civic leader David Gottstein praised the legislators for exploring the issue between legislative sessions.

“This meeting is critical. With the 90-day session, only the budget and oil and gas issues get attention” during regular sessions, he said.

The Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. hasn’t yet seen the bills, said Laura Achee, its legislative liaison, after the meeting.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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