Message from Iran: ‘Isolating Tehran will prove costly’

By Imtiaz Gul

The mood in Tehran following the U.S. exit from the international 2015 nuclear deal – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – is one of defiance, self-confidence and a reach out to Europe

And the message ringing out of the Iranian capital to Europe and the US itself reads like: the US objective of isolating the Iranian nation will “prove too costly.”

President Hasan Rouhani’s latest visit to Austria and Switzerland last week was part of his country’s frantic efforts to win over the other five guarantors of the JCPOA – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, and thus blunt the Trump plan of “isolating Iran through an illegal and unjustified act.”

And an urgent meeting between foreign ministers of Iran – Mohammad Javad Zarif – and those of other five powers still party to the 2015 nuclear deal meet in Vienna on July 6 provided a clear pointer that Europe and Washington don’t see eye to eye on this particular issue any more.

In the joint statement issued after the day-long deliberations, Zarif and other top diplomats reconfirmed their commitment to the deal and its “economic dividends” for Iran.

After the US threat to penalise companies that do business with Iran, the remaining signatories said they would work for “the protection of companies from the extraterritorial effects of US sanctions”.

After the US threat to penalise companies that do business with Iran, the remaining signatories said they would work for “the protection of companies from the extraterritorial effects of US sanctions”.

Beside reiterating their commitment to the accord, all the five foreign ministers agreed – as part of an 11-point list of joint goals – to finding ways to build up trade and investment links with Iran, including “the continuation of Iran’s export of oil and gas” and other energy products.

They also vowed efforts to keep open financial channels with Iran, promote export credit cover and maintain open air, sea and overland transport links.

“These initiatives are aimed at preserving the nuclear deal which is in the security interest of all,” said the joint statement read out by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

Regardless of the brave face that the Iranian leadership is putting up, Trump’s withdrawal from JCPOA and the November deadline to all others to cut down dealings with Iran, has certainly triggered concerns within the Iranian power corridors. They expect the Trump administration to mount geo-political pressure on Tehran with the aim to strangle its economy through punishing sanctions.

Increasingly, a highly placed official close to Ayatollah Khamenei- the Rahbar’s office – told DT in Tehran , the US position on the JCPOA is exposing the US-Saudi nexus. Our challenge is to neutralize this through diplomacy, said the former ambassador.

But how does Iran plan to ride out crippling sanctions, which has already badly hit the Toman – the official currency, which lost over 30 percent of its value in the last week of June?

The biggest challenge, said the official, is the internal political disunity, pointing to the power struggle between the mighty Rahbar office, the presidency and the Parliament.

This was evident from a letter that some 187 of the 290 legislators wrote to President Rouhani end of June, urging him to change his economic team.

“We are aware that we are facing sanctions and complicated plots by the enemies…, however certain inefficiencies of the government’s economic sector have been responsible in this respect . Current economic situation in the country makes it essential for the three branches to make more efforts in line with strengthening the Islamic Republic’s system and alleviating economic pressure on the people,” the parliamentarians said in their letter.

Even the president acknowledged this internal challenge.

“The U.S. big mistake will help strengthen the Iranian people’s national unity and we will resolve the problems with less costs,” Rouhani, reelected to the presidency a year ago, remarked during his meeting with Iranian expatriates in Vienna.

The second challenge is to get all the neighbours around Iran on board to off-set the impact of the current and impending sanctions, officials say. They reckon that if exporting oil even half its current sales should be enough to withstand sanctions.

The third challenge relates to Iran’s European trading partners and the extent to which they can defy Washington. We need to find a way to work with Europe because Turkey or Azerbaijan alone cannot absorb the pressure off curbs on our external trade.

We must pull up socks to deal with the consequences of the sanctions, says Dr. Farajirad, the Director General of the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations. We cant predict anything right now as Trump remains unpredictable and is over-eager to demonstrate quick victories over countries that have stood up to Washington.

Farajirad said the new situation demands that all neighbours in the region intensify their economic collaboration, including currency swaps, which could be a win-win for all.

Originally Published in Daily Times

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