The axis of oil

By Mark Follman

Published February 17, 2005 11:50PM (EST)

Vice President Dick Cheney's former company is back in the news again.

"Only weeks before Halliburton made headlines by announcing it was pulling out of Iran -- a nation George W. Bush has labeled part of the 'axis of evil' -- the Texas-based oil services firm quietly signed a major new business deal to help develop Tehrans natural gas fields," reports Newsweek. "Halliburtons new Iran contract, moreover, appears to suggest a far closer connection with the countrys hard-line government than the firm has ever acknowledged.

"The deal, diplomatic sources tell NEWSWEEK, was signed with an Iranian oil company whose principals include Sirus Naseri, Tehrans chief international negotiator on matters relating to the countrys hotly-disputed nuclear enrichment program -- a project the Bush administration has charged is intended to develop nuclear weapons.

"There are few matters more sensitive for Halliburton than its dealings with Iran. The company, formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, last year disclosed that it had received a subpoena from a federal grand jury in Texas in connection with a Justice Department investigation into allegations that the firm violated U.S. sanctions law prohibiting American companies from directly doing business in Iran. (U.S. firms are barred from doing direct business in Iran, but under a confusing quilt of federal regulations, their foreign subsidiaries may do so as long as they operate 'independently' from U.S. management.)

"Documents disclosed by the company indicate that the Justice Department probe into Halliburtons Iran dealings, like a separate Justice investigation into alleged foreign bribes paid by a Halliburton-connected consortium to officials in Nigeria, cover the period that Cheney was Halliburton CEO.

"There have been no allegations that Cheney was directly involved in any of the conduct that is under scrutiny by Justice, although as Halliburton CEO, Cheney repeatedly and forcefully criticized the U.S. sanctions laws restricting business in Iran, arguing that they caused U.S. firms like Halliburton to lose business to international competitors."

Doesn't sound like the firm will be losing any biz on this one -- Halliburton, according to Newsweek, expects to net "between $30 million and $35 million over the next several years."

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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