US Democrats Concerned about Iran’s Illicit Economic Ambitions

 Abdollahian also commented on the Iranian and US conflicts with Islamic State militants, reiterating the Iranian narrative that dismisses the US role and asserts, “they are only interested in managing” the IS threat, not in weakening or destroying it. At the same time, Abdollahian joined fellow Foreign Ministry officials in decrying last week’s news of sanctions enforcement against nine individuals and entities accused of helping Iran to evade international restrictions and continue its human rights abuses.

Earlier, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Marziyeh Afkham declared that such enforcement violates the spirit of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, in turn suggesting that the US would be held responsible if Iran chose to walk away from those discussions.

These various statements no doubt contribute to US Congresspersons’ wariness of conciliatory dealings with Iran. But of all the topics that Abdollahian commented on according to Reuters, his remarks about depressed oil revenues were especially relevant to a letter sent by Democratic Senators on Friday.

Addressed to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and signed by Senators Schumer and Gillibrand of New York and Senator Casey of Pennsylvania, among others, the letter expressed “grave concerns” that Iran is exploiting the goodwill associated with nuclear negotiations in order to defy existing sanctions and encourage foreign investment that would weaken support for those sanctions in the event that negotiations failed to reach a final agreement.

The letter specifically, quoted by PJ Media, highlighted a conference scheduled for February 23-25 in London, where the National Iranian Oil Company will present several dozen projects for potential foreign investment, in what the Senators say would be direct and deliberate courtship of sanctions violations.

The National Iranian Oil Company is recognized by the Treasury Department as an affiliate of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which has a controlling interest in a wide variety of Iranian businesses but is blacklisted by the US and EU on account of its role in developing Iran’s nuclear program, supporting terrorism and conducting military interventions abroad, and contributing to Iran’s abysmal human rights record.

“We believe it is possible that the CWC Group’s sponsorship of this conference could constitute material support, possibly placing it in violation of the sanctions policy, and we urge you to investigate any possible breach,” said the letter by Senate Democrats. “As we continue our diplomatic efforts, it is vitally important that existing U.S. sanctions continue to be strictly enforced.”

Opponents of the Obama administration’s policy toward Iran are not only concerned about the possibility of the US ignoring sanctions violations and contributing to the enrichment of the IRGC and similarly dangerous elements of the Iranian government and military. They are also concerned about the overall effect of sanctions relief on the Iranian economy and on support for the previously effective sanctions regime. To the extent that that effectiveness has been undermined by recent relief, Iran may have also been relieved of external pressure to moderate its policies.

Thus it is not just the foreign economic outreach of the IRGC that concerns Iran critics. It is also other economic indicators and claims, like that of Iran’s Customs Administrator, who said, as reported by UPI on Friday that Iran had increased its non-oil exports by 20 percent over the past year. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had previously said that his government would seek to further grow these exports from 35 billion dollars to 50 billion.

And positive claims about Iran’s economic future are not only coming from within the Iranian government. On Friday, the Tehran Times reported that a preferential trade agreement had gone into effect between Iran and Turkey on the first of the year. The report also quoted Turkish Economic Minister Nihat Zeybekci as saying that “the expansion of economic and trade ties with Iran is the top priority of Turkey,” and that Turkey would seek to increase the volume of that trade to 35 billion dollars.

This is remarkable given the strained relations that have persisted between Iran and Turkey in recent years, as manifested in December by an incident in which Iran began sealing the fuel tanks of vehicles traveling into the country from Turkey. The two nations’ governments have often contrasting ideologies and they have been backing opposite sides in the Syrian Civil War.

Nonetheless, Turkey’s sudden eagerness to expand trade relations with its sometimes rival indicates the extent to which Iran’s current position in the global community has expanded its economic and trade opportunities, possibly at the expense of international support for the sanctions that previously suppressed the Iranian economy.