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Individual Americans can't do business in Iran, North Korea, Syria and Sudan because the federal government says those countries support terrorists.

But states can, at least indirectly.

Public money is funneled to those countries through international investments held by pension programs in every state.

Missouri Treasurer Sarah Steelman is leading a national "terror-free investing" effort that she hopes will shame major companies from doing business with the countries on the State Department's list.

So far, she isn't getting much support, including here in Utah, a state that is one of the most ardent supporters of President Bush's "war on terror."

"We are not in business to conduct foreign policy," said Bob Newman, executive director of Utah Retirement Systems, which manages the state's $23 billion pension program.

The retirement systems board has a general policy that it will not make any financial decision to further a "social" cause.

Still, the board recently examined the call for terror-free investing.

"The concern we have is, while the State Department has identified terrorist countries, they have never identified companies specifically that we should not do business with," Newman said.

Steelman believes that is simply shirking responsibility.

"If we are going to have economic sanctions, let's really cut the purse strings," she said.

Steelman has sent a letter to all state treasurers asking them to follow her lead.

She oversees a $26 million cultural trust fund that she has made terror-free and she is working on Missouri's pension board one investment at a time.

"I believe every dollar makes a difference in this fight," she said.

Newman said he is also worried about every dollar - of the pension fund's bottom line.

The board's opposition to "social investing" be it terrorist related or one of the more traditional causes such as the environment or animal rights stems from a basic economic principle.

If you limit the stocks you can invest in, you increase risk.

"We are fiduciaries," Newman said. "Our goal is to manage the plan to provide the best return with the least risk we can."

Steelman has heard this complaint and takes exception to it. In her letter to treasurers, she said the 500 publicly traded firms that do business in these four terror-supporting countries can have more fluctuation in their stock price because of their political alignment.

She also touts the performance of her own "terror-free" fund that is beating investment return projections.

"Missouri's experience makes clear that not only is terror-free investing possible at the institutional level, but it may actually lead to improved performance," she wrote.

Utah Treasurer Ed Alter, who is also a member of the quasi-public retirement board, declined to comment for this story. But Newman's opinion mirrors the opinion Alter gave more than a decade ago when people complained about state investments in tobacco companies.

He said in 1996: "We don't try to make moral judgments."

The issue came up again after the states won a settlement from tobacco companies. Utah invested some of that tobacco money back into tobacco companies, outraging anti-smoking groups.

Alter initially refused to divest but in 2002 backed down under the political pressure.

Steelman has not had much support from other treasurers but she has testified in Congress and exchanged ideas with lawmakers for at least four other states.

She believes terror-free investing may need to be a movement lead by political leaders.

One of the most logical choices in Utah would be David Clark.

He is the House majority leader, a banker and a member of the Legislature's retirement committee.

He hadn't heard much about the terror-free movement but says he is "very much intrigued by the thought."

"It would probably warrant the state to do the review."