- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2004

GENEVA — The United States this week found itself increasingly isolated in opposing Iran’s application for membership in the World Trade Organization.

The European Union spearheaded a push to admit Iran at a meeting of the agency’s ruling General Council on Wednesday, backed by a cross section of rich and developing countries.

Candidate countries must be given the right of membership “regardless of political considerations,” said EU Ambassador Carlo Trojan, who said the organization “fully supports” the application and believes accession would promote economic reforms in Iran.

Other countries that spoke in support of Iran included China, India, Venezuela, Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Switzerland and New Zealand. Tanzania took the floor on behalf of an informal group of developing countries.

Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Peter Allgeier was unmoved by the appeals, refusing to budge from the position taken by the Bush administration since Iran’s application for membership was first taken up in May 2001.

“We are reviewing [Iran’s request] and there’s no change at this point,” he said.

Iraqi delegates meanwhile lauded a decision by the global body to honor their country’s Jan. 23 application for observer status, which came after months of behind-the-scenes diplomacy by the Bush administration.

The decision sends a “very strong signal to the Iraqi people that the international community has accepted them back and that was essential. It has a big psychological impact,” said Ahmad Al-Mukhtar, the head of the Iraqi delegation.

Mr. Allgeier said that by pursuing the request, Iraq “has made clear its commitment to the rule of law and the principles that underlie the WTO.”

Canadian Ambassador Sergio Marchi said the trade group had done “the right thing for Iraq, and we hope universality of membership will be the dominant principle.” Other statements in support of Iraq came from Australia, Japan, the European Union, Kenya, India and China.

Arab members went along with the consensus decision but none spoke out in support with it.

“We could not agree on a single [Arab] text,” a senior Arab diplomat told The Washington Times. The official said most Arab countries did not want to upset Iraq or the United States but did not want to be “too positive.”

For a number of years, Arab trade diplomats have objected to the U.S. and Israeli policy of blocking membership requests by Syria and Libya, and a bid for observer status by the 22-member Arab League.

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