There is little doubt that the three European participants in the nuclear negotiations, along with other members of the European Union, have been contributing to the economic dimensions of this cooperation. In exchange for some constraints on the Iranian nuclear program, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action provided for relief from nuclear-related international sanctions. European businesses were notably quick to take advantage of this situation, sending trade delegations to Tehran long before the deal was implemented and making purchases of Iranian oil soon thereafter.
That this trend is ongoing was highlighted by a report that was issued on Friday by Oil Price. It noted that two major European trading firms, Govnor and Vitol, had begun shipping gas to the Islamic Republic as part of an effort to lay claim to a significant share of the Middle Eastern country’s market. Oil Price emphasizes that this is part of a larger phenomenon of rapid engagement with the Iranian economy, illustrating the fact that “everyone wants a piece of Iran’s oil pie.”
This evident eagerness to resume full economic relations with the Islamic Republic is made more remarkable by the fact that Iranian officials and some analysts who are sympathetic to Iran have decried the obstacles that still exist to this sort of reengagement. The Huffington Post took a critical view of those obstacles on Friday, saying that there were still “lingering ambiguities” about the detail and extent of the sanctions relief promised to Iran by the US under the nuclear agreement.
The Huffington Post suggests that the ongoing enforcement of some sanctions and the continued separation of the American and Iranian financial systems could imperil the nuclear deal and deprive the US of the economic benefits that have sent so many European firms scrambling for new trade agreements. In a move that puts the Huffington Post at odds with a number of highly vocal critics of President Obama’s Iran policy, the article therefore suggests the expansion of the current sanctions relief package, to possibly include non-enforcement of sanctions even on Iran’s non-nuclear activities.
This sort of commentary, along with Obama’s own vague remarks about cooperation among the negotiating parties, can be expected to contribute to the grave concerns that have been expressed by Republican congressmen and foreign policy experts in recent days, in response to indications that the Treasury Department is moving to effectively provide the Islamic Republic with access to the US dollar.
A strongly worded editorial on this topic written by Lori Lowenthal Marcus on Friday, declared that the Obama administration’s efforts to keep the nuclear deal alive and in full effect were now in danger of sending the message that Iran is free to purchase ballistic missiles and support its other illicit behaviors in the region using US dollars.
Lowenthal Marcus also acknowledged the specific plans for “U-turn transactions” by American banks, which supposedly prevent direct Iranian access to the US financial system, but nonetheless allow a certain kind of access to the dollar. In line with the sort of response that Iran News Update had anticipated from such critical outlets, the editorial concluded sarcastically, “No doubt the indirectness of the relationship will be a great comfort to people around the world who are blown up by bombs purchased with U.S. dollars provided by Iran.”
This highlights the specific nature of some of the criticism of President Obama’s policy for supporting and implementing the nuclear deal. Many of those who spoke critically of that deal in the first place felt that the US had given away many concessions to the Islamic Republic without getting much in return. While Iran dismantled some of its nuclear enrichment infrastructure and removed highly enriched uranium stockpiles from the country, it was not compelled to give full and complete access to international weapons inspectors, much less to guarantee legitimate use of the unfrozen assets and new wealth acquired as a result of the deal.
Another editorial that appeared in Bloomberg View on Friday argued that the American concessions that characterized the nuclear negotiations have continued into the period of implementation, such that “the deal keeps changing,” and in a way that is not reciprocal between the two main parties. The editorial quotes House of Representatives Democratic Minority Whip Steny Hoyer as saying that he does not support the sort of changes being presently introduced by the Obama administration, which grant Iran new sanctions relief “without a corresponding concession.”