Since Rouhani took office and began his “constructive engagement” with the West, trade delegations having flying in to Tehran on a regular basis. But since the nuclear deal was inked, the steady stream of delegations has turned into a torrent with everyone in the delegations dreaming to hit the jackpot and capitalize on Iran’s weak economy and strong potential.
Of course, the risks are huge since no one knows how Tehran will react to the large influx of foreign trade which has emphasized just how much Rouhani is eager for foreign investments while Khamenei is weary of the resulting foreign influence on the Iranian population. Furthermore, no one can even begin to imagine if and how Tehran will uphold its side of the nuclear deal nor can anyone envision what would happen to Iran’s economy in a case of sanctions being “slapped-back” or in case of a military confrontation.
For now, the foreign delegates are given red carpet treatments with many photo-opportunities with Tehran’s leading politicians and they serve as a testament to Tehran’s newfound status out of isolation. So while foreigners still only dream about getting richer in Iran, Rouhani is already reaping huge political profits simply from their visits in Tehran.
The Two Early Giants
The two biggest players in the region are at the forefront of the potential foreign traders and investors in Iran: Russia and China gleefully began talking business from the day that Rouhani began nuclear negotiations. Neither country really cared about the sanctions anyway and both knew that they could trade with Iran regardless of whether sanctions were applied, lifted or slapped back. The proposed deals with both countries are enormous by any standard: Hundreds of billions of dollars in food-for-oil trade, regular trade and investments. But more, much more than this, Moscow and Beijing are willing to accept Tehran without criticism over its nuclear program, its systematic abuses of human rights and its recurrent efforts at meddling and subversion in its neighbors’ affairs.
In fact, Moscow and Tehran have come up with a plan to ditch the dollar in their mutual trade in an effort to weaken the US and are cooperating fully in military matters in Iran and in Syria. Putin is only too happy to procure Tehran with missiles and jet fighters as part of its efforts to increase its own influence in the Middle East.
As to Beijing, it too is ready to sell military equipment to Tehran and is also beefing up its sales of missiles to Syria.
Both Moscow and Beijing are not to be confused with other countries who are trying to cash in on Iran since neither of them really fear Tehran nor the US.
EU at the Front
Next in line for the red carpet treatment in Tehran are the Europeans in all their forms (EU, Switzerland, Baltics…). Delegations from Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Belgium, France, Spain, Bulgaria, Serbia and more have rushed to Tehran to find their own pots of gold, or rather oil. Future delegations include the UK, Holland and others…These delegations are on shakier ground since although they are encouraged by their governments and their accountants to make money, they also represent countries and governments who are critical of Tehran’s abuses of human rights and who are weary of Tehran’s nuclear aspirations.
In most cases, they focus on the money by disregarding the issues of human rights and by claiming that Tehran’s nuclear program is of a peaceful nature. In the process, they are usually breaking laws and regulations that are supposed to enforce all delegations to Tehran to bring up the issues of human rights (EU legislation) and they are circumventing the UN’s IAEA by claiming what the IAEA, after all these years of inspections, is still not able to do.
Countries such Bulgaria and Serbia are given special treatment since Tehran understands that these countries are freer to deal with Tehran regardless of EU laws, regulations and expectations. In fact, Tehran has singled out Belgrade to be its “economic hub” in the region which may or may not include the EU.
Then Friends and Neighbors
Other past and planned delegations to Tehran include neighbors such as India, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iraq, Qatar, UAE, Armenia and Turkey as well as friendly countries such as Brazil, Bolivia, South Africa, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway etc…
The neighbors are key to expanding Iranian influence in the region. In fact Rouhani placed an emphasis in dealing with neighbors than with other countries in an effort to enhance his brand of Tehran as a benign and profitable element in the region. Significantly absent from the red carpet are the missing delegations from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and from other Arab countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia etc….Their absence is a jarring testament to the fear that Tehran’s Islamic Revolution has instilled in their governments.
Finally, there are the friends: Countries from Scandinavia, Latin America and Africa who share some of Iran’s anti-American sentiment, who supported Tehran even during the wild days of Ahmadinejad and who found in Rouhani the savior of Iran. For them, trading with Iran is a justification of what they had been claiming all along: that Tehran is to be trusted.
All of these countries have no qualms about working with a country with a horrific reputation for abuses of human rights nor are they afraid of a nuclear Iran since they don’t view Iran as a potential enemy in any scenario.
Last in Line
Although the US is planning to send a trade delegation in the near future to Tehran, there are very good chances that the US players will be snubbed by the Iranians quite simply because Khamenei says so. This will quickly become a point of contention between Rouhani and Khamenei since Rouhani is eager for foreign investments regardless of its source while Khamenei is weary of Western influence that will infiltrate into Iran through Western trade and brands.
Furthermore, the US did plan to lift sanctions but seems to be trigger happy to slap back sanctions or to slap on new sanctions if necessary. These might not faze business people from other countries but the possibility of being found guilty of breaking sanctions is a nightmare for US investors.
At the end of the day, doing business with Tehran is not only about money – it is a political statement by each businessman and each country in regards to Rouhani’s government and the regime in Tehran. If the nuclear deal sticks and if Rouhani’s spirit of moderacy prevails, they will make billions. But if the nuclear deal falls through and Khamenei’s paranoia and global aspirations take the day, they will find themselves robbed of their profits or worst.