In recent months, there have been accumulating worries about the possibility that foreign investor interest in Iran would undermine international support for economic sanctions against the Shiite theocracy and possible nuclear threshold state. But in light of current conditions, a Western diplomatic source told Reuters that Iran’s courtship of European investment is mostly falling on deaf ears.
“Iran is looking a lot less interesting and desirable from the perspective of Western oil companies. There’s too much oil on the market so the last thing they want is for Iran to come back on-line,” he said.
But the Iranian oil ministry insists that the new contracts it has drafted in preparation for a diplomatic agreement with the P5+1 represent a lower initial cost and higher return on investment, compared to foreign investment opportunities in other oil-rich nations.
However, Reuters indicates that those new drafts make only modest changes in one key area: control. They provide prospective investors with a greater involvement in oil production than previous draft agreements. But it remains the case that the Islamic Republic bans outright any foreign ownership of petroleum resources. As Tehran continues to work to insulate the country against foreign influence, it weakens the confidence that foreign entities would be able to have for their investments, if they were interested in making them in the first place.
These contrary impulses – desire for foreign capital and aversion to foreign influence – reflect other, more general contradiction in Iran’s foreign policy. For instance, although Iran is engaged in diplomatic negotiations with Western powers, it has never renounced its foreign terrorist activities and other efforts to oppose Western interests not only in the Middle East but also in the Western hemisphere. Furthermore, the persistent strength of Tehran’s relationship with the terrorist groups like Hezbollah that participated in these missions, suggests that those efforts are still ongoing.
An article published in FrontPage Mag on Monday recalls attention to the case of Alberto Nisman, the Argentine prosecutor who was apparently killed before he was set to present evidence of Iranian involvement in a 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. Hezbollah has retained vested interests in the Argentinian drug trade since before that time, and Nisman was reportedly on the verge of exposing a cover-up related to trade agreements and the non-prosecution of Iranians involved in the bombing. FrontPage Mag suggests that these things all point to Iranian efforts to extend its influence into South America, where it can more directly challenge the US.
Of course, this only undercuts Iran’s diplomatic and economic outreach to the West if the efforts are recognized in Western policy circles, and FrontPage Mag suggests that they may not be because South American is a “forgotten continent” in US foreign policy today. But the risk is there for Iran, and its ideological opposition to Western interests threatens to keep it locked into global pariah status, with strong international support for sanctions and other efforts to curtail Tehran’s nuclear ambitions and invasive foreign policy.
But that pariah status is not related only to Iran’s nuclear program and support for terrorism; for many critics of the regime it is also a function of the fundamental ideological differences between the Islamic Republic and various Western democracies. What’s more, in a report on Tuesday, The Tower indicated that the regressive ideologies of the Islamic Republic may actually come more fully into force in situations like the current nuclear negotiations, when foreign relations are more open.
The article referred to comments by reformist Iranian MP Ali Motahari regarding recent crackdowns on free speech. He asserted that the strongest elements of the Iranian government tend to push back against perceived political openness, effectively compensating with an upsurge in conservatism and repression on the domestic level. Reflecting this tendency, The Tower points out that the Iranian judiciary has become more aggressive about closing down newspapers and has taken to circumventing the usual channels in order to do so.
This pushback can be seen also in other efforts to reaffirm conservatism and fundamentalist Islam and to drive out contrary influences, both foreign and domestic. This broader crackdown may explain the manufactured prosecution of American-Iranian Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian. It may also explain the arguably worsening situation for women in Iranian society, as well as legislation and other efforts to repress certain forms of music and forms of supposed Western influence including dog ownership.