Irish government concerned about the unintended collateral damage the original sanctions decision would have inflicted on workers in Ireland and across Europe.
On the 19th of December, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced its intention to delist Rusal and EN+ from sanctions originally imposed on a range of Russian individuals and entities in April 2018. This decision is currently being reviewed by Congress.
Under the relevant US legislation, it is a matter for the Senate and the House of Representatives to assess OFAC's decision, but it would be remiss of me if I failed to draw attention to the vital importance of this decision for Ireland and for our European Union partners.
Let me be crystal clear. I have absolutely no sympathy for the individuals who were targeted by the sanctions last April. Indeed, our Government has supported successive rounds of European Union sanctions on Russia and last year joined the United States and our European partners in expelling a Russian diplomat.
My concern relates exclusively to the impact of these sanctions on jobs and livelihoods in Ireland.
Our interest in this issue derives from the fact that Rusal owns an Irish company, Aughinish Alumina, which employs 700 people directly in rural Country Limerick, an area many Americans will know from landing at Shannon Airport and from visits to the nearby Cliffs of Moher. The livelihoods of a further 1,000 people depend indirectly on the Aughinish plant.
The importance for Ireland of this number of jobs is best illustrated by that fact that, proportionately, this would equate to 120,000 jobs in a country of America's population. Job losses across Europe would also be very significant.
Aughinish Alumina was set up originally in 1983. Although Russian owned since 2007, all of its management and staff are Irish. The leading alumina producer in Europe, it is responsible for a third of the EU’s output of alumina, the principal raw material for aluminum production.
The closure of the plant at Aughinish, which supplies smelters across Europe, would disrupt the global aluminum industry and push up prices for American companies that use aluminum as a raw material. Alternative supplies of alumina and aluminum required by reduced European production would more than likely come from China.
Since the sanctions were imposed in April, the Irish Government up to the level of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, and the governments of other European countries with similar concerns, have been in frequent contact with the US Administration.
The purpose has been to set out concerns about the unintended collateral damage the original sanctions decision would have inflicted on workers in Ireland and across Europe.
Credit where credit is due, OFAC has taken heed of our concerns and offered a series of extensions which allowed Aughinish Alumina to continue operating, albeit with difficulty on account of the uncertainties generated under the shadow of US sanctions. The December decision was warmly welcomed by my Government who were pleased to see OFAC taking on board the points we had made to them.
I have no political ax to grind on this issue and I make no criticism of any American politician who has reservations about the OFAC decision. My purpose is simply to highlight the damage that would be done to livelihoods in the west of Ireland, to the Irish economy and to the European aluminum industry should the sanctions be implemented in the form in which they were first imposed in April 2018.
Although I am not the ultimate judge of this, the OFAC decision seems to me to reconcile the justifiable desire to punish certain Russian individuals with the need to avoid inflicting damage on close partners of America, including Ireland. People in the west of Ireland would rightly be bewildered should US sanctions against Russia have the effect of harming their local economy in the way that closure of Aughinish Alumina would undoubtedly do.
The wider ramifications of these sanctions for the European economy would, in my opinion, also be very damaging to transatlantic relations at this critical time when Europeans and Americans need to stand together in the face of rising threats to their shared values and interests.
I hope that the US Congress will see its way to endorsing an approach to sanctions policy that, while punishing those guilty of unacceptable behavior, takes proper account of the views of friendly countries like Ireland. We are stronger when we work in unison, recognizing and respecting each other's valid concerns.
Daniel Mulhall is Ireland's Ambassador to the United States