Yet the same Reuters report focused on recent claims that Iran might be nearing readiness to participate in an oil freeze arrangement with Saudi Arabia, the rest of OPEC, and a handful of non-OPEC nations. Those countries gathered together in April to explore the possibility of such an arrangement, but it was never finalized because the Saudis demanded participation from all parties involved, including Iran. Meanwhile, Iran reiterated that it would not freeze or cut its own production until it regained the market share lost during the long period of economic sanctions.
Now that most of those sanctions have been lifted following January’s implementation of the Iran nuclear agreement, the Islamic Republic is reportedly nearing the anticipated level of recovery. According to Reuters, Iran pumped 3.6 million barrels of oil per day in the month of July, and aspires to levels of approximately four million barrels. With that level of recovery apparently within reach, Iranian officials have reportedly indicated to visiting foreign counterparts that they are preparing to cooperate with multilateral plans. Furthermore, the other countries involved in this arrangement appear to have already begun revisiting the formerly scuttled plans.
On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal emphasized that there is a great deal of skepticisms surrounding the claims of nascent Iranian cooperation. Not only is it unclear whether all parties involved will be able to coordinate their plans, it is also not certain whether those parties are being entirely honest in the narratives that they are presenting to the media. In the first place, Iranian-Saudi animosity is arguably at a high point, thus casting doubt about whether either country will be willing to give the appearance of ceding power to the other. And in the second place, the mere suggestion of possible cooperation at a later date is possibly sufficient to make markets respond with higher short-term prices.
Interestingly, the implication that Iran is manipulating the global media is reminiscent of another recent, major story regarding Iran’s international relations. On Monday, Iran News Update discussed the announcement that an arrangement for Russian use of Iranian air bases had been brought to an end, with the Iranian Defense Minister citing Russia’s excessive boasting about the arrangement. Iran News Update emphasized that Iran and Russia both stood to benefit from their own narratives about the arrangement and its cancellation. The article also highlighted contrasting interests on Iran’s part, since Iranian officials need the support of foreign powers like Russia but also thrive on presenting a powerful, independent picture of the Islamic Republic.
Iran’s arguably contradictory impulses were brought into sharper focus on Tuesday when it was widely reported that the end of the air base sharing arrangement could not be independently verified. Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty pointed out that the US State Department had declared that the arrangement might still be ongoing. Soon thereafter, Ali Larijani, the Speaker of the Iranian Parliament made an identical claim, accusing Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan of having been dishonest when he claimed that the agreement had been called off.
The Associated Press also reported upon Larijani’s commentary, but it focused on his apparent perception of the original arrangement as a subversion of parliamentary authority by the Iranian military. This supposedly reflects a longstanding conflict between political and military structures, but it also encourages uncertainty about the parliament’s views about the Russian partnership itself. At the same time that Larijani spoke critically about the way the Defense Ministry entered into its agreement with the Russians, he also spoke highly of Iranian-Russian “unity” in the defense of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The likely explanation for Larijani’s inconsistent tone is that the Iranian parliament wishes to challenge military officials’ power without opposing their actual policies. And where those policies concern Russia, they seem to favor the ongoing pursuit of partnership, but in a way that does not make Iran seem dependent upon or beholden to Moscow. Even if this is not reflected in the secret preservation of the air base sharing arrangement, there are numerous other ways in which the Iranians and Russians have been pulling closer together and deliberately making the international press aware of that fact.
For instance, on Tuesday UPI quoted an Iranian envoy for business interests in Russia as saying that “monetary transactions between two Iranian and Russian banks will start soon.” Although the sanctions relief under the Iran nuclear deal technically opened up the Islamic Republic to formerly excluded foreign financial relations, the Iranians have had a hard time securing European investment and regaining access to international banking institutions. However, direct financial relations with partners states like Russia represent smaller steps toward reintegration.
Although Tehran has failed to take measures to alleviate international concerns about money laundering and financial instability, the Iranian leadership has made numerous statements blaming the US for obstructing investment and scaring off the banks. Those statements are certainly aimed at pressuring the West into making more concerted efforts to open up Iran to the world. Now, the teasing of new Russian financial ties may serve as an alternative source of that pressure, in that it sends the message that adversaries to the West could gain an upper hand on American and European institutions.
But whereas these sorts of Iranian statements may constitute an indirect threat to Western interests, other indications of Iranian-Russian cooperation are more explicitly threats to Western security. That is to say, the burgeoning Iranian-Russian alliance has potential military dimensions that extend beyond their mutual support for the Assad regime. The Washington Times reports that the Iranian Defense Ministry recently declared its intention to purchase Russian Sukhoi fighter jets, and also to license Russian T-90 tanks for domestic production inside of Iran. And these claims coincide with the imminent completion of the long-anticipated transfer of the Russian S-300 missile defense system.
But in the interest of maintaining the aforementioned image of strong Iranian independence, the Defense Ministry’s comments emerged only after Iranian military and political leaders announced the premier of the country’s first domestically produced long-range missile defense system. Not only that, but The Iran Project reported on Tuesday that Defense Minister Dehqan and others, as part of a ceremony marking National Defense Industry Day, had made other claims of advancement in domestically produced military technology.
Among those claims was that Iran had become one of only eight countries in the world capable of producing a jet engine that could be used on aircraft up to 10 tons in weight. Dehqan also insisted that the Iranian military had doubled and tripled the range of existing missiles, including foreign-supplied cruise missiles, and that it was on the verge of being able to produce its own supersonic cruise missiles. The Free Republic added that such missiles could pose a significant threat to US ships operating in the Persian Gulf and indeed that that was their intention.
Dehqan’s claims are certain to meet with skepticism, as Iran is known for exaggerating its own military capabilities. But the Free Republic explains, “While the Iranian claims are fantastical, the country’s missile arsenal is large, diverse and poses a very real threat to US ships.” Much of the Islamic Republic’s commentary on its military strength is expressed in terms of readiness for conflict with the US and its allies, and this trend has not diminished in the wake of the Iran nuclear agreement, which some Western policymakers viewed as a potential starting point for better relations.
The Iran-Russia alliance is an indirect sign of the evasiveness of such improvement, but there are many other factors that are more direct indicators of ongoing Iranian animosity. Although the Obama administration appears to still be pursuing friendlier relations, some elements of that administration have acknowledged the danger that Iran still poses to Western nationals, especially those who choose to travel to the Islamic Republic. Fox News reported on Tuesday that the State Department had issued new travel warnings for Americans and especially Iranian-Americans, in response to the continuing arrest and persecution of dual nationals in Iran.
Still, there was no immediate indication that this had affected White House policy. Meanwhile, previous examples of that policy came under newfound scrutiny on Monday, according to The Tower, when the chief foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal claimed that both American and Iranian sources had indicated that Iranian influence was a factor in President Obama’s controversial decision in 2013 to not follow through on threats to take action in Syria following Assad’s sarin gas attack on Syrian civilians.