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Contrasting Criticisms of US Financial Policy toward Iran

This report serves to further undermine recent commentary by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei claiming that the US has been pursuing aggressive economic policies toward the Islamic Republic and violating the spirit of the nuclear agreement by discouraging foreign investment.

Iran News Update previously reported upon the remarks that Khamenei made on the occasion of the Iranian New Year celebration of Nowruz. The supreme leader declared the year ahead to be the “Year of the Resistance Economy,” thereby encouraging Iranian businesses to operate on the assumption that foreign investment will not be forthcoming and that it will still be incumbent upon them to violate and evade US-led economic sanctions.

In addition to conveying Khamenei’s remarks, those previous reports also addressed the real circumstances behind them, as well as some of the ways in which those remarks have proven to be dramatically exaggerated or one-sided. While it is true that international banks have avoided the Iranian market out of fear of lingering economic sanctions and the possible reversal of recent trends toward rapprochement, it is also true that the US government has complied with its commitment, even as the Iranians have made provocative moves that many see as undercutting the deal.

The Associated Press report goes further in contradicting Khamenei’s characterization of the situation. It indicates that far beyond simply complying with its obligations to suspend economic sanctions, the US is actually going to the trouble of actively encouraging re-engagement with the Islamic Republic.

But in light of Iranian activities like this month’s test-firing of three nuclear capable ballistic missiles, some in the West are sure to see the efforts of people like Buckemeyer as going too far. Many Western critics of the nuclear deal expressed serious concerns that newly acquired Iranian capital would find its way into the hands of terrorist organizations or would otherwise be devoted to destabilizing Iranian activities.

Some of these dangers were highlighted anew in the AP report, and have apparently even been highlighted by the US government’s lobbying of American businesses that might choose to re-engage with Iran. Buckemeyer reportedly mentions the high levels of economic influence enjoyed by the hardline Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and tells US firms that this is a risk factor that they will have to take into account in determining whether their investments are secure or whether they may eventually become subject to new sanctions.

The AP also points out that US firms have been given further pause by recent arrests of American citizens in Iran. These factors support the notion that the roadblocks to economic reconciliation have generally been erected by the Iranians and not by the Americans, who only make the existing risk factors known.

Even so, strong critics of current US policy will no doubt question why American diplomats are encouraging American investment in Iran at all, even if they are doing so with strong caveats in place. The strongest of those critics may even connect this encouragement to their notions about a policy of appeasement under the current US government.

The perception of such a policy was given expression on Wednesday in the Washington Free Beacon in the context of a new report on the 1.7 billion dollar payment that the US arranged to make to Iran around the time of the nuclear deal’s implementation and a prisoner exchange between the two countries.

Although the payment was characterized as the settlement of long-disputed debts and as a matter separate from the prisoner exchange, a number of commentators soon raised the question of whether it had in fact been a sort of ransom payment to secure the release of four Americans who had been imprisoned in Iran on false charges of spying or “undermining national security.”

The Free Beacon not only persists in inquiring about the nature of the payment but also suggests that that payment may not be the last of its kind. The article asserts that the talks leading to that payment are part of a broader pattern of backdoor settlement agreements and that this could result in additional US taxpayer money being transferred to the Islamic Republic, and thereby potentially being channeled into illicit activities.

Among those illicit activities are Iran’s well-publicized human rights violations, which include arbitrary arrests, political imprisonment, and extensive state controls over the media. The danger of increased financing for these activities is made arguably more serious by the fact that many international human rights groups have expressed concern that financial interests concerning a newly de-sanctioned Iran might encourage Western policymakers to turn a blind eye to the continuation of those human rights abuses.

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