This sort of commentary is sure to be surprising to many observers, considering the Iranian regime’s longstanding reliance on anti-American sentiment in its propaganda and policymaking. In fact, an article by Trend News Agency pointed out that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had long ago initiated a strategy of expanding relations with the “West minus US,” so as to keep possible American influence at bay while nonetheless profiting off of a return to former levels of trade with European countries.
But the Trend article also hints at Rouhani’s apparent dissent, arguing that there are growing questions even within Iran about the viability of such a selective policy of foreign relations.
Over the past several weeks, various reports have pointed to a strong divide between Western businesses on this topic, with some pushing for early adoption of the Iranian market while others wait on the sidelines to see how the situation changes over the long term.
The latter trend has been particularly noticeable among European banks, according to Agence France-Press. Virtually all financial institutions are still declining to resume transactions with Iran, primarily out of fear of a repeat of prior sanctions enforcement actions like the one that imposed a nearly nine billion dollar fine on French bank BNP Paribas.
And there certainly is reason for such institutions and the companies who do business with them to be concerned. Although US President Barack Obama has pushed for vigorous implementation of the Iran nuclear deal – as by suspending sanctions and encouraging business travel – members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have consistently expressed interest in countering these efforts and maintaining pressure on Iran and those who would seek to enrich it.
The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had recently taken the lead in pushing at least three pieces of legislation to limit the impact of sanctions relief associated with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The report also made it clear that Corker has active support in these endeavors. The Post quoted Ben Cardin, the committee’s ranking Democrat, as saying that Congress can and should be “bolder” in its policies toward Iran in the wake of initial sanctions relief.
Such commentary makes it clear that the Iranian leadership has a financial incentive to prevent Congress from taking more such measures. And it may be that in the interest of doing so, Rouhani is now attempting to give US businesses their own financial incentives to stand in the way of those measures.
But the effort to court US businesses does not necessarily contradict Khamenei’s efforts to keep US influence at bay. Indeed, regardless of the “West minus US” strategy, Khamenei’s efforts at obfuscation have never been limited to the US. In the wake of the July 14 nuclear agreement, the supreme leader urged his subordinates to avoid economic, political, and cultural “infiltration” from the whole of the West, even as the Islamic Republic sought to benefit from sanctions relief under the deal.
Toward this end, Iranian officials including President Rouhani have been making efforts to push back against the West in other areas while simultaneously courting their investments. Many of these efforts have included crackdowns on Iranians affiliated with the West, or on persons expressing pro-Western or “un-Islamic” cultural views.
As the latest example of this simultaneous courting and push-back, The Guardian reports that Tehran had detained and interrogated Bahman Daroshafaei, a journalist who formerly worked for the BBC’s Persian service, at exactly the same time that Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was in Britain to participate in an international conference on the crisis in Syria.