Iran has not abided by that element of the agreement since it was adopted in January. It is supposed to be in effect until the final deadline for negotiations in June, and requires that Iran export an average of no more than a million barrels per day throughout that period. In the first three months of the year, the average was reported to be nearly 1.4 million barrels per day.
Despite this fact, US President Barack Obama expressed optimism that Iran would abide by the agreement for the last three months of the interim period. Zanganeh’s comments today indicate that it has no intention of doing so. “We don’t accept any figure or number that is told to us in terms of a measure for our own exports,” he said. “Iran will set Iran’s export level, and we will export at the maximum level possible.”
Still, there are no immediate signs that this defiance will slow the pace of negotiations in which the Western powers have been remarkably conciliatory.
Zanganeh’s further comments at today’s energy exhibition betray the regime’s confidence that refusal to cooperate will not ultimately endanger negotiations. The Oil Minister referred to ongoing efforts to reach out to foreign investors and projected that Iran would be selling liquefied petroleum gas to Europe within two years’ time – as much as 10 million metric tons annually.
Rouhani Says West “Has No Choice”
President Hassan Rouhani appears to share his oil minister’s confidence about the trajectory of nuclear negotiations. Speaking at a meeting with clerics and political elites yesterday, Rouhani remarked that “the great and resistant nation of Iran” has taken control of the diplomatic situation amidst the nuclear crisis, because it “does not bow to pressure and sanctions.”
Statements such as these express triumph over previous attempts to put pressure on the Iranian regime, which objective reports generally portray as having been very effective, insofar as they damaged the nation’s domestic economy and therefore diminished the legitimacy of its government.
Whether Rouhani genuinely believes that Iran has been victorious over the West or is simply using sanctions relief as a propaganda tool, the confidence in his statements can only be genuine. The Iranian president, along with much of the regime, has apparently determined that confrontational and defiant rhetoric, as well as actual refusal to cooperate with the terms of the nuclear agreements, will not provoke a serious Western response.
Standing by Aboutalebi
Perhaps because of perceived weakness of the United States’ overall position, the Iranian parliament is still firmly standing by its defense of Iran’s choice for the position of permanent ambassador to the United Nations. Hamid Aboutalebi’s appointment was effectively blocked by the West last month over concerns that his involvement in the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis made him a threat to national security. Aboutalebi is also suspected of ordering the 1993 assassination of an Iranian resistance member who was living in Rome.
At least twomembers of the Iranian parliament were quoted by Tasnim News Agency today as urging Iran to not back down on this diplomatic confrontation. It is arguably the only hard line that the United States has taken amidst negotiations with Iran, and that is partly due to the fact that Congress had the opportunity to take the lead in drafting legislation denying Aboutalebi’s visa, which President Obama then signed. Still Iranian officials have refused to name an alternative and have threatened to sue the US in international court over the issue.
But Sanctions Relief Continues…
Interestingly, all of these defiant statements came at about the same time that the US was releasing the fourth and fifth installments of Iranian assets that had been frozen by the US prior to the development of the recent nuclear agreements.
According to Xinhua News Agency, the latest release represents about 1 billion US dollars, and follows upon some 1.55 billion dollars that were already released. It comes in response to the observation that Iran has apparently “completed some of its obligations” under the deal that was first established last November. The lack of cooperation on other specific points was either not known or deemed insignificant to the decision to continue sanctions relief.
Buying Stronger Regional Ties
It was previously reported that a senior aid in the US Congress, who was involved in drafting legislation to bring Congress into the negotiating process, expressed concern that there was little evidence that Iran was cooperating, but plenty of evidence that sanctions relief was allowing its economy to rebound.
The effects of that economic rebound are evidently stretching beyond the borders of Iran and allowing it to continue its shoring up of mutual defense and sanctions-proof economic relationships with other Asian countries.
Iraq, under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and since the United States military left the country, has been a reliable partner to the Iranian regime. It has attacked Iranian dissident groups living in Iraq and it has allowed Iranian arms shipments to pass through its airspace and over its roads, on the way to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
Now in light of the recent influx of cash to Iran, transit between the two countries will be made easier. It was reported today that Iran has developed plans to construct a four-lane highway linking the western Iranian trade hub of Mehran with Iraq. The project is expected to be completed in March of next year.
Meanwhile, additional plans are in development for Iran to build two oil pipelines running back and forth to northern Iraq so that crude oil can be imported to Iran and gas returned from it. This project is additionally noteworthy because the destination of the pipeline is a Kurdish region of Iraq.
The governments of both Iraq and Iran have historically treated the Kurds very badly. Ethnic rights activists are among the many political prisoners being held in Iran, while in Iraq, Prime Minister Maliki has recently been shutting out all groups from government that are not part of his Shi’ite Dawa Party. Closer ties between Iraq and Iran have almost exclusively meant closer ties between Shi’ite Iran and the Shi’ite groups in Iraq, which has helped to drive sectarian conflict.
It cannot be said with certainty what the construction of Iranian pipelines in Kurdish Iraq will mean for the local population of that region.
More Ships in Sudan
The sectarian nature of Iran’s regional foreign policy naturally goes far beyond its interactions with Iraq. This fact is certainly not lost on the US, which is well aware of Iran’s support for terrorist groups such as Hamas, and which suspects that the latest dockage of two Iranian warships in Sudan meant that Iran was in the process of shipping arms to Hamas today.
It was reported that two warships had docked in Sudan on Monday of this week, as well. The repeat transit through Kartoum could indicate a high volume of weapons shipments to regional allies, or increased efforts to intimidate regional enemies, or both. It has been reported that Saudi Arabia and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council have been concerned by Iranian efforts to expand its influence throughout the Middle East.