Resolution Copper, Rio Tinto and the Iran Connection

Halting Iran’s dangerous pursuit of nuclear weapons is a national security imperative. 

In the past, Members of both parties have united in sanctions against the Iranian regime, whose intention include: plotting assassinations on U.S. soil, supporting terrorist organizations, and threatening to wipe Israel off the map.

But that bi-partisan opposition ended, as the Republican Congress rewarded mining company, Resolution Copper (a subsidiary of Rio Tinto), with a sweetheart land deal in the U.S., while allowing them to actively continue business with Iran, potentially providing them with minerals and fuel central to their nuclear efforts.

Who is Resolution Copper?

Resolution Copper, LLC is a corporation formed to develop and operate a massive, underground copper mine near Superior, Arizona.  Some of the land the company needs for the mine is federally owned and currently off-limits to mining.  The company is seeking legislation (H.R. 1904) to give them ownership of the land they need.  If this legislation is enacted, Resolution Copper could mine billions of dollars worth of copper without paying any royalty to the current owner of the copper: the American people.

Who Owns Resolution Copper?

Resolution Copper is jointly owned by the Rio Tinto Group and BHP Billiton. Rio Tinto is a British-Australian, multinational mining and resources group.   A controlling 55% of Resolution Copper’s shares are owned by Rio Tinto, which reported $14 billion in earnings last year and $7.8 billion during the first half of 2011.  

What’s the Iranian Connection?

Rio Tinto owns the majority stake (69%) of the Rossing Uranium Mine in Namibia.  Rossing mine is the world’s 3rd largest producer of uranium, accounting for 5.3% of the global supply of uranium oxide, which can be used both to fuel nuclear power reactors and to produce nuclear explosives.

The Iranian government, through the Iran Foreign Investment Company (IFIC), owns a 15% stake of the Rossing  mine. The IFIC is on the U.S. Department of Treasury Iranian Transactions Regulation list. In addition, there are 2 Rossing Mine board members from IFIC, one of whom is a chemical engineer.

Why Would Iran Want to Own Part of a Uranium Mine?

Why are the Iranians so interested in this mine in Namibia? They want the expertise about the industry and they want the uranium.  And why do they want it?  They want it so they can build a nuclear bomb that they can use to threaten the United States, threaten the State of Israel, and threaten our other allies in the region.

Have the Iranians Received Uranium from Namibia?

Rio Tinto says that Iran does not have access to the nuclear technology at Rossing and gets no uranium from the mine.  

However, in 2009, Namibian Prime Minister Nahas Angula said he “could not say whether Namibia was supplying Iran with Uranium but revealed that his government viewed Iran as one of its customers who have contracts to buy uranium mined from the country". That same year, Prime Minister Angula also said, “Unless an international agreement, such as with the United Nations Security Council, calls for countries not to supply to Iran, the Namibian Government treats Iran as any other country”.

While Rio Tinto says Iran is not currently receiving uranium from Rossing, the firm has not said whether Iran got some of the uranium used to fuel its nuclear program from the Rossingmine in the past. Even if uranium is currently being sent to Iran from the Rossing mine, it appears that relatively recently, profits from the mine’s operations have been repatriated to Teheran.  Iran may also, from its ownership of the Rossing mine, be getting information about uranium mining operations and the uranium mining industry that could be useful to its nuclear program.

What about U.S. and UN Sanctions?

Rio Tinto’s partnership with Iran to own the Rossing mine raises questions about the companies’ compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1929 passed on June 9, 2010 which explicitly states that, “Iran shall not acquire an interest in any commercial activity in another state involving uranium mining, production or use of nuclear materials and technology…”  While Rio Tinto says the investment is permissible, since Iran  owned the mining stake in 1975 – before the Islamic Republic was established and before sanctions were imposed – some U.S. organizations concerned about Iran’s nuclear ambitions have raised concerns about whether Rio Tinto’s relationship with Iran may violate US or international sanctions (see and ). 

What was the Deutch-Markey Amendment?

On October 26, 2011, Representatives Deutch (D-FL) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) offered an amendment to H.R. 1904, the “Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2011” - or the Taxpayer Giveaway to Resolution Copper Bill, as introduced by Rep. Gosar (R-AZ),

The Deutch-Markey amendment would have amended the definition of “Resolution Copper Mining, LLC” by inserting the words “, except that such term shall not include any company, successor, assign, affiliate, member, or joint venture with an ownership interest in any property or project any portion of which is owned by the Iran Foreign Investment Company.”  If the amendment had been adopted, Rio Tinto would have been forced to sever its relationship with Iran in order for its Resolution Copper affiliate to be able to acquire the lands in Arizona it was seeking from the federal government in order to build a large copper mine.  

The Deutch-Markey amendment was defeated by a vote of 187-237, every Democratic Members voted for the amendment. But not a single Republican in the House voted to stop Iran from obtaining these nuclear materials. Not one.  

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