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German exports to Iran fall dramatically in wake of UN sanctions over nuclear program

NEW YORK (Associated Press) – German exports to Iran have dropped nearly 26 percent in the past two years amid increasing concern over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, according to a new report from Germany’s Economy Ministry.

German exports fell from 4.3 billion euros in 2005 to 3.2 billion euros ($4.65 billion) in 2007, according to the report.

Government guarantees of payments for goods sold to Iran have, at the same time, more than halved during the last year, from 1.16 billion euros in 2006 to 503.4 million euros ($731.84 million) in 2007.

Iran _ which says its nuclear program is aimed at generating electricity _ is under two sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment, a technology with the potential to produce nuclear reactor fuel or material for an atomic bomb.

Germany, along with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council _ the United States, France, Britain, China and Russia _ has led efforts to address Iran’s nuclear program.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said in November that European countries "want to reduce our own trade relations with Iran," noting the German government was restricting export guarantees and that German banks had also curtailed their business.

The United States in October 2007 slapped sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, a main unit of its defense ministry, three of its largest banks and eight individuals.

The U.S. has underscored its efforts by trying to persuade European banks to withdraw from the Iranian market. Stuart Levey, U.S. Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, visited Europe last summer to urge banks to withdraw from Iran.

The two largest German banks, Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank AG, said they had done so _ but for business reasons, not as a result of political pressure.

Germany’s Economy Ministry insists it is not pursuing a political agenda, though acknowledges that the political climate does play a role.