In business, the early bird really does catch the worm and, mindful of that, European firms are rushing with headlong alacrity to do deals with Iran – even though pro forma only some sanctions against the ayatollah regime had been lifted.
Europe’s eagerness for commercial transactions with Iran might well lend the impression to the uninitiated that all sanctions were dropped.
It’s as if reentering Iran is a chance not to be missed for a whole gamut of concerns – from banks and financial conglomerates to the oil and gas sector and even carmakers and assorted manufacturers.
The French, for example, are flying planeloads of executives from no less than 100 firms for “exploratory” talks hot on the heels of the partial sanctions’ suspension. Their German, Dutch and Swiss counterparts aren’t far behind. Simultaneously, from Asia come equally keen Chinese and Indian overtures toward Tehran.
It pays to recall that while Europeans and Asians fall over themselves to restore chumminess with Iran – its terror-mongering and nuclear machinations notwithstanding – the international community is awash with amplified boycott threats against democratic Israel.
The tone for the surge of interest in the Iranian economy is set in Washington, which once spearheaded sanctions on Iran but has now eased them.
Iran’s buoyed business boosters could only take heart from President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address where, significantly, his foremost foray into the minefield of foreign relations was to declare his intention to veto the sanctions bill sponsored by a bipartisan group of Senators – 13 Democrats and 13 Republicans. This bill, it’s important to realize, would exacerbate sanctions only in the event that negotiations with Iran on a final agreement fail.
Ostensibly this shouldn’t rile Obama as it actually reinforces his bargaining position.
But instead, Obama exploited his most important annual address to put his political weight behind the Iranians and against a bi-partisan coalition comprising the majority of American congressmen. This is nothing if not extraordinary.
Obama appears to vehemently side with his Iranian interlocutors, who had already lashed out against the bill, warning that it would scuttle the interim agreement. But that’s patently specious. The bill’s very rationale is that sanctions would be intensified only if final talks fail.
Obama indeed maintains that Tehran was compelled to consent to the interim agreement because the sanctions inflicted substantial pain on its economy. The natural assumption then should be that Iran would be incentivized to exhibit a greater inclination for accommodation because of the looming prospect of tougher constraints on its oil exports, access to bank holdings abroad and funding for assorted construction and other ventures in the country.
The inescapable conclusion is that Obama – in the name of diplomatic prudence – has come out forcefully in defense of the Iranian position while Iran and the US in effect continue to be at loggerheads even on how to interpret the interim deal’s provisions.
Iran, in other words, can literally stick to its guns and evince an extreme hardnosed approach, while the response from the Washington is implausible indulgence that triggers an unnerving impetuous competition in Europe and Asia for Iranian business opportunities.
If anything, the Senate bill, authored by Democrat Robert Menendez and Republican Mark Kirk, might cool the ardor to curry favor with Iran. Its unmistakable bottom line is that any investments in Iran before a final deal is struck are unsafe.
It’s obvious why Iran should bristle against this bill. The bet in Tehran is that the limited sanctions reprieve would generate an across-the-board collapse of the entire sanctions structure. This could spawn a fait accompli even if the talks are irredeemably deadlocked.
But while Iran’s self-serving logic is transparent, it’s exceedingly difficult to fathom the White House’s reasoning.
The bill doesn’t curtail Obama’s freedom to negotiate as long as he focuses on his much-touted goal of actually dismantling Iran’s rogue nuclear project rather than settling for its sham pledges to do so.
If Obama were sincerely intent on demonstrating support for Israeli self-defense, then he surely shouldn’t oppose even such minimal pressure to mitigate the menace of Iranian nukes.