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Reports this week that UN Ambassador Susan Rice and her Canadian husband Ian Cameron have investments in firms involved with the Keystone XL pipeline project and past energy deals in Iran are drawing scrutiny across the political spectrum. But conservatives eager to link Rice to Tehran might want to think twice. For starters, Rice's holdings in companies like Royal Dutch Shell and Italian oil giant ENI appear to be within federal ethics guidelines. More importantly, at the UN Rice has helped put in place a crippling sanctions regime which has brought the Iranian economy to the brink of collapse. And as it turns out, Rice's right-wing inquisitors seem to have conveniently forgotten Iran sanctions foe Dick Cheney, whose Halliburton ties to Tehran continued to bring him profits even after he became vice president of the United States.

As the Washington Post detailed, Rice and her husband are worth up to $43 million. Their financial disclosures reveal that the couple owns shares in Royal Dutch Shell (between $50,000 and $100,000),  and ENI ($15,000 to $50,000), as well as smaller holdings in Norsk Hydro ASA, a Norwegian aluminum firm, and BHP Billiton PLC, an Australian-based natural resources company. As the Post explained, "Several ethics advisers interviewed Thursday said they did not see an immediate problem with the Rice's investments but suggested that people on such a career track not hold stock in individual companies."

Of course, Republicans and their amen corner have a different view. As one GOP aide put it, "This news adds to the list of questions about Susan Rice." And as the Washington Free Beacon salivated:

The revelation of these investments could pose a problem for Rice if she is tapped by President Barack Obama to replace Clinton. Among the responsibilities of the next secretary of state will be a showdown with Iran over its nuclear enrichment program.

"That Susan Rice invested in companies doing business in Iran shows either the Obama administration's lack of seriousness regarding Iran or Rice's own immorality," said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser on Iran and Iraq. "Either way, her actions undercut her ability to demand our allies unity on Iran."

Rubin, now at the American Enterprise Institute and formerly part of the Bush administration's Office of Special Plans, has argued that "for sanctions to work, Iran's isolation must be absolute and the costs imposed on the regime must be beyond that which its leaders can at present imagine." Unfortunately for him, the list of those who couldn't imagine them was Dick Cheney.

In 2004, the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes detailed the Iranian business dealings of Cheney's former company, Halliburton. Despite the prohibitions signed into law by President Clinton with his 1995 executive order and the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996, Halliburton continued to reap the profits of business with Iran through its non-U.S. subsidiaries. While U.S. law bans virtually all commerce with the rogue nations, Halliburton was able to jump through its major loophole: the rules do not apply to any foreign or offshore subsidiary so long as it is run by non-Americans. As CBS documented:

That subsidiary, Halliburton Products and Services, Ltd., is wholly owned by the U.S.-based Halliburton and is registered in a building in the capital of the Cayman Islands -- a building owned by the local Calidonian Bank. Halliburton and other companies set up in this Caribbean Island, because of tax and secrecy laws that are corporate friendly.

Halliburton is the company that Vice President Dick Cheney used to run. He was CEO from 1995 to 2000, during which time Halliburton Products and Services set up shop in Iran. Today, it sells about $40 million a year worth of oil field services to the Iranian government.

Continue reading below the fold.

In the wake of the January 2004 60 Minutes piece, the company moved quickly to declare that "Halliburton's business in Iran is clearly permissible under applicable laws and regulations" and cited its October 2003 disclosures to the New York City police and fire pension funds. Despite those assurances, Dick Cheney's old firm was subpoenaed by a U.S grand jury in June 2004. In early 2005, Halliburton announced that it would end its business activities there when it fulfills its ongoing contracts, including a $35 million gas drilling project it had just won the previous month.

Sure enough, in April 2007 Halliburton declared its work for Iran was complete. Just not before the company, which earned $2.3 billion in profits on revenue of $22.6 billion in 2006, moved its corporate headquarters to Dubai:

"The opening of a headquarters in Dubai is the next step in a strategic plan announced in 2006 to focus on expanding its customer relations with national oil companies while concentrating more of the company's investments and resources in growing its business in the Eastern Hemisphere."
In November 2004, Forbes suggested the rationale for the move from Houston to Dubai in a piece aptly titled "Trading with the Enemy":
No matter how hard the U.S. tries to keep dual-use commodities like gas monitors, software and nuclear triggers out of transshipment hubs like Dubai, stuff gets through. The lure is quick profits. Traders easily pocket 40% markups just by flipping goods, illicit and otherwise...

Halliburton, for example, manages to do business with Iran obliquely. Its Dubai-based affiliate, Halliburton Products & Services Ltd., allegedly has no Americans on staff; the Houston oil services company claims it has no direct ownership of the operation. Nevertheless, FORBES has obtained documents showing how Kala Ltd., the British arm of the National Iranian Oil Co., solicited at least 17 separate bids from the affiliate during 1997 and 1998 (when Vice President Cheney was Halliburton's chief executive). A few bids include handwritten notes that say "FOB [free on board] Dubai Airport" or "FOB Dubai port"--meaning that the U.A.E. was just a way station between Halliburton and Tehran. Halliburton would not comment on the bids. In any event, earlier this year the Treasury Department reopened a 2001 inquiry into Halliburton's Iran operations and its Dubai-based partner.

Though he did not benefit directly from the Iran contracts of Halliburton's foreign-based subsidiaries, the Congressional Research Service found that Cheney continued to have financial ties to his former firm. Despite Cheney's assurances that "I've severed all my ties with the company, gotten rid of all my financial interest," a 2003 report by the Congressional Research Service found that the vice president retained 433,000 shares of Halliburton. In addition, Cheney received $162,392 and $205,298 in deferred payments in 2001 and 2002, respectively.

Given the stakes, it's no wonder Dick Cheney had a born-again experience on Iranian sanctions when he entered the Bush administration. While vice president, Cheney in 2002 denounced Iran as "the world's leading exporter of terror." But during his tenure as Halliburton CEO in the 1990s, Cheney strenuously argued against Clinton's sanctions regime and expanded Halliburton's business with Tehran. But in 1998, he complained that U.S. firms were "cut out of the action." And back in 1996, Cheney railed against the Clinton prohibitions on Iranian trade and financial activity for American firms:

"We seem to be sanction-happy as a government. The problem is that the good Lord didn't see fit to always put oil and gas resources where there are democratic governments."
And for today's critics of Susan Rice, the problem is that the GOP has seen fit to elevate those with financial ties to Iran. Iran hardliner and former Bush HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson lost his Wisconsin Senate race, perhaps due in part to his misstatements about his stock holdings in companies doing deals with the mullahs in Tehran. As for Mitt Romney, his 2007 campaign to force pension funds to divest their holdings in firms in business with Iran lasted as long as it took for the media to reveal his former employer, Bain & Company, was among them. As explained to the AP:
"This is something for now-forward. I wouldn't begin to say that people who, in the past, have been doing business with Iran, are subject to the same scrutiny as that which is going on from a prospective basis."
Five years later, Romney's allies who defended Republican Vice President Dick Cheney are saying much the same thing about Democratic UN Ambassador Susan Rice.
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