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US pressed government and business to stop all its dealings with Iran

WikiLeaks cables show how a campaign was initiated against Spanish banks

Between 2006 and 2008, the US Embassy in Madrid stepped up the pressure to prevent Spanish companies from doing business in Iran, a newly released batch of WikiLeaks cablegrams show.

Contacts were made regularly between Embassy officials and representatives of some of Spain's biggest industries such as Repsol, Iberia, Banco Santander, Banco Sabadell and Unión Fenosa, according to cables between the US mission in Madrid and the State Department in Washington.

US pressure was so fierce that Washington sanctioned one Spanish company for doing business in Iran and derailed a host of projects, including Repsol's plans for a lucrative gas plant. Banco Santander and Banco Sabadell also had to close their operations in Tehran due to US pressure.

In September 2004, Spain and the United States had their first clash after the hi-tech firm Telstar became the first company from a NATO-member nation to be put on a US State Department list of sanctioned companies for doing business in Iran. Washington believed that the freeze-dryers that Telstar was selling in Iran would be used to make chemical weapons.

Spanish authorities and company officials argued that Telstar had complied with all European regulations regarding the sale of such items, that the equipment had been sold to civilian firms, and they were not considered to have a military function. Telstar also stated that it sold the freeze-dryers one year before the US and EU outlined sales restrictions.

After a string of contacts between Madrid and Washington, the US government lifted the sanction against Telstar on December 27, 2004. However, Washington warned Telstar not to do any more business with Iran because it considered that its products could be used for biological warfare. Telstar was also forced to withdraw another contract with Iran for two sterilizers that had been ordered to specification.

By 2006, the pressure had mounted when then-Ambassador Eduardo Aguirre began asking then-Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos about an Iberia deal to sell 30 older model US-built planes to Air Iran. Moratinos assured him that the sale wasn't going to go through. On November 20, Aguirre also voiced his concerns with former Deputy Prime Minister María Teresa Fernández de la Vega, who told him that there had been plans for the sale but that they were cancelled.

Gas project stopped

Perhaps the transaction that caused most friction between the two governments was Repsol's contract - signed in January 2007 - for a joint liquid gas project with Persian LNG. Aguirre maintained contact with the Madrid Repsol president Antonio Brufau, who told him on April 28, 2008 that the Spanish oil giant had decided to sell its stake in the Iranian project.

Not only do the cablegrams show that Aguirre called on Brufau several times about the contract, but also that the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) had asked for exhaustive information in 2007 about Repsol's dealings in Iran and Cuba.

The Embassy also wanted to know about Banco Santander and Banco Sabadell's operation in Iran and turned to the then-deputy Bank of Spain governor, José Viñals, for help. Former Under US Treasury Secretary Robert M. Kimmit on a March 5, 2008 visit to Madrid told Viñals about the US government's concerns. That same day, Viñals, who is now with the IMF, asked both banks for information and passed along the data to the US Embassy, the cable said.

Neither Banco Santander nor Banco Sabadell wanted to comment on the allegations about Viñal contained in the cablegrams. The Bank of Spain, however, said that the information Viñals sought was routine - not confidential - and was used "to defend and support" the two financial institutions.

In July 2008, Viñals again met with another US Treasury official to inform him that both banks had closed up shop in Iran.