Iran is on the verge of unveiling some 1,300 private sector tourism projects in the coming days, valued at a total of about 12 billion dollars. It will also streamline the visa application process and remove other obstacles to visitation by residents of 190 countries. While the US and Britain are apparently not among those countries, this effort to welcome in high volumes of foreign tourism is arguably in contrast to the tone of recent regime rhetoric urging Iranian officials and hardline civilians to push back against foreign and progressive influence and “infiltration” in the wake of the nuclear deal.
The same could be said of recent remarks by the Iranian Oil Ministry urging close cooperation between the regime and Western businesses in developing investment opportunities after sanctions are suspended or removed. An oil industry conference is current scheduled for February in London, at which the ministry will unveil new oil contracts governing business relations with Western firms.
Many such firms have already expressed strong interest in such bilateral investment, and so turnout at the conference can be expected to be high in spite of recent indications or regime inhospitality, including the arrests and convictions of Western nationals such as Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian.
AFP reported on Monday that Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh had delivered a public statement over the weekend calling oil industry middlemen “parasites” and urging potential foreign investors to avoid them and deal with the Oil Ministry directly. On one hand, this could be construed as willingness to embrace Western economic influence for the sake of economic recovery. But the underlying interest in Western investment is certainly nothing new, even if it has always been tempered by anxiety about the political consequences of cooperation.
Thus, on the other hand, Zanganeh’s invitation can also be regarded as an effort to keep foreign investors close to regime officials so that their presence and activities in the country can be closely controlled. There has been speculation in recent weeks that the as-yet undisclosed contract templates could also serve to put restrictions on how Western firms operate and ultimately how lucrative the hotly anticipated opening of the Iranian market will be.
If this turns out to be the case, it will suggest that the regime is counting on the current high level of demand as it seeks to exert newfound financial leverage to both its economic and its ideological advantage. And it is not only the West that comprises the potential targets of this kind of power play; it is also Iran’s regional rivals, chiefly Saudi Arabia.
Iran’s state-affiliated Tasnim News Agency reported on Monday that Zanganeh had made new statements aiming to pressure the Saudis and their partners to change economic behaviors that had previously been aimed at least in part at containing Iran’s economic resurgence in the wake of the nuclear deal. Zanganeh insisted that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries limit its oil output in order to encourage recovery of the global oil price, which would in turn allow Iran to reclaim some of the market share that it lost under economic sanctions.
Zanganeh’s insistence on this point may be mere bluster, or it may be indicative of Tehran’s genuine belief that the nuclear deal and broader rapprochement with the West have given it political and economic cover to successfully assert its will in such matters as oil price and foreign investment.