Iranian firms do brisk biz in UAE Agence France-Presse - 13 February, 2008  Thousands of Iranian firms are still doing business in the country's top  trading partner, the United Arab Emirates, despite a US drive to choke  Tehran's economy over its controversial nuclear programme.  But US banking sanctions are also beginning to bite, industry sources say.  Iranian businesses "have not had any problem with local banks because we are  considered UAE companies" under local rules requiring at least 51 per cent  of a business to be owned by an Emirati national, said Nasser Hashempour,  executive deputy president of the Dubai-based Iranian Business Council.  The same goes for fully Iranian-owned firms operating out of free zones  "because they are registered in the UAE and their sponsor is the free zone,"  which would withdraw their licence if they flouted the rules, he told.  Similarly, foreign banks with branches in the UAE continue to deal with  firms that have Iranian partners, "but they are more cautious - they  scrutinise them more when extending facilities," Hashempour said.  However UAE-based branches of international banks have "asked most Iranian  individuals who have personal accounts with them to close their accounts,"  he added.  A fourth Iranian bank, state-owned Sepah, is under UN sanctions stipulating  a voluntary freeze by member states of its overseas assets, part of two sets  of UN sanctions largely targeting Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile  drives.  US President George W. Bush accused Iran of being "the world's leading state  sponsor of terror" when he visited the UAE in January.  The oil-rich UAE is a US ally and has a long-standing territorial dispute  with the Islamic republic. But it also has wide-ranging links with its  neighbour across the strategic Strait of Hormuz, with booming Dubai serving  as the lung through which Iran breathes as Washington tightens the economic  noose.  There are an estimated 450,000 Iranians living in the UAE out of a total  population of more than 4.1 million. About 10,000 Iranian firms operate in  the country, chiefly Dubai, according to Iranian figures.  Iranian embassy statistics put bilateral trade at 11.7 billion dollars in  the Iranian year ending in March 2007, with imports from the UAE forming the  bulk of the exchanges at 9.2 billion dollars.  The embassy expects bilateral trade to rise to about 14 billion dollars by  the end of the current Iranian year next month.  UAE figures corroborate this projection. According to the Dubai Chamber of  Commerce and Industry Iran was the largest market for its members last year,  with non-oil exports totalling a massive 9.8 billion dollars - a 33.4 per  cent increase on 7.3 billion dollars in exports in 2006.    -------------------------------------------- IMRA - Independent Media Review and Analysis Website:    

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