While this fine is the culmination of a years-long process, stemming from transactions that Credit Agricole carried out between 2003 and 2008, the announcement may nonetheless be viewed as a possible attempt by the US government to reassure critics that it will carry on enforcing the existing sanctions for as long as they remain in place. Most estimates expect that period to last for at least six more months as Iran completes the alternations to its nuclear program that are designated as prerequisites for the lifting of sanctions.
But Iran insists that it can fulfil its obligations under the nuclear agreement in as little as two months. And its boasting on this point is complemented by its public statements about the speedy recovery that it supposedly expects for its oil economy and export markets. Maritime Executive reported on Tuesday that Iran had revealed plans for a 120 billion dollar expansion of its shipping fleet to handle heightened exports of oil, dry bulk goods, and consumer merchandise.
The same article points out that Iran has long claimed it would be able to expand oil output by as much as one million barrels per day within just the first six months after sanctions are lifted. Oil industry officials further claim that they will recover pre-sanctions levels of exports soon after this. Independent analysts recognize that this depends on various factors including OPEC policies and levels of foreign investment, but Iran’s public statements are almost certainly aimed at influencing both of these.
Critics of the nuclear deal have long worried that foreign interest in the Iranian market would make it increasingly difficult to re-impose sanctions once they are lifted. The promise of the opening of the Iranian market has been credited with encouraging some firms to jump the gun in seeking partnerships or even defying sanctions. While the judgement against Credit Agricole may be aimed at dissuading other firms from pushing their economic relations too far too soon, it seems that many firms regard their Iranian investments as foregone conclusions.
Even within Credit Agricole’s home country, firms such as Accor Hotels have already finalized deals with Iranian partners. And Auto News reported on Tuesday that plans remained on the verge of implementation for French automaker PSA/Peugeot-Citroen to begin selling luxury cars to wealthy Iranian consumers in the coming year.
Interestingly, Maritime Executive points out that French shipping company CMA CGM was the first foreign entity to dock a container ship at the Iranian port of Shaid Rajaei following the nuclear deal. Such apparent eagerness among French firms reflects sentiments that had already been expressed during the nuclear negotiating process. At that time, another French bank, BNP Paribas was ordered to pay a record 8.9 billion dollar fine for sanctions violations, leading the French parliament to consider the possibility of establishing a bank that would be insulated from US sanctions, in order to prevent American entities from entering the Iranian market ahead of their French competitors.
If the current situation is encouraging such cooperation between Iran and business in the West, which Iran considers to be its enemy, one can imagine the influence that the promised lifting of sanctions has been having on cooperation between Iran and Asian countries. Indeed, examples of this cooperation are steadily accumulating and contributing to critics’ concerns that Iran’s recovery will be difficult to counteract.
For instance, AKI Press reported on Tuesday that Iran and China had developed joint plans to help Kazakhstan in developing and supplying a new oil refinery. Such projects are part of a broader patter of Iranian-Chinese collaboration that has been welcomed by officials on both sides. They may also be indicative of expanding economic and by extension political influence by Iran in the affairs of some of its neighbors.