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Iran News Digest December 3, 2014

On the surface, this notion that the talks are on track to a final agreement seems out of step with comments made by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. But while the content of the two officials’ comments differ, the tone is similar insofar as both have used the occasion of the latest extension of talks in order to present Iran and the United States as mutual antagonists. On Press TV, Rouhani characterized sanctions as cruel and unjustified. Meanwhile, Ayatollah Khamenei last week declared that the extension constituted a victory by Iran over Western attempts to “bring Iran to its knees.”

What’s more, this Iranian perception of antagonism belies Rouhani’s sentiments when he says that there is a good chance of clinching a final deal. Doing so relies on Iran’s cooperation, and so far this has been in short supply. India Times reported on Tuesday that Iran had flatly denied the authenticity of documents obtained by the International Atomic Energy Agency pointing to possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. But the regime did this without providing long-denied information to clarify outstanding IAEA questions about Iran’s nuclear-related research and development.

In this instance too, Iranian officials maintained an antagonistic tone in its responses, suggesting that a foreign state forged those documents in an effort to discredit Iran. Those officials did not specifically name one state, but did imply that they have one specifically in mind, naming it as a “certain member of the IAEA.” In light of the past history of Iranian rhetoric, this can be presumed to be either Israel or the United States.

It is worth noting, however, that those falling oil prices are external influences on the negotiating process in much the same way that economic sanctions would have been. The Center for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America does take note of this fact, and it points out that Iran has seemingly been on a winning streak characterized by sanctions relief, concessions from Western negotiators, and the expansion of its influence throughout the Middle East.

But CAMERA adds that the unique problems posed to Iran by the recent 40 percent drop in oil prices may spell the end of that winning streak. Whereas a lack of intentionally-imposed pressure from the West may have created a situation in which Iran did not truly need a deal, an oil crisis may simply reverse that situation.

The Iranian regime, however, has made a point of rejecting this interpretation, insisting that it is perfectly capable of managing oil prices that are, in fact, 30 percent lower than what Iran needs in order to balance its budget. This latter point has been denied as well, and UPI reports that Iran claims to be in the process of drafting a budget that assumes the continuation of 70 dollars per barrel oil prices.

Yahya al-e Es-Haq, the head of the Tehran Chamber of Commerce, declared that the government has no concerns about the current budget year. He added that today’s oil prices do not show effect until three months later – a comment that almost seems to acknowledge that the government is merely ignoring the problem while it can.

No doubt some officials in Iran assume that the situation will improve either because sanctions will be removed or because a surge of foreign investment will make those sanctions difficult or impossible to enforce. But current indicators such as the oil price make that surge of investment notably less likely. This fact is surely recognized by Iranian Minister for Economic Affairs and Finance Ali Tayyebnia, who felt the need last week to declare that his country is “among the safest countries for (foreign) investment.”

This is clearly not the case, if only because economic sanctions technically remain in place, and may be amplified in January when opponents of the Iranian regime take a larger share of power in the US government.

Foreign Entities Contribute to Iran’s Growth

Though the possibility of renewed economic sanctions poses a definite threat to any businesses that choose to begin or expand operations in Iran, some have been so bold as to bet on the alleviation of sanctions and signal willingness to work more closely with the Islamic Republic. As has been noted before, these businesses have the potential to undermine current international support for those sanctions.

Following Monday’s Iran Auto Show, French car manufacturer Peugeot has clearly come out as one of the entities contributing to Iran’s growth and possible sanctions defiance, even as negotiations with the West remain unresolved. AFP has released footage of Peugeot operational director Jean-Christophe Quemard addressing the auto show and saying that his company has had intense discussions with Iran and possesses a strong will for future collaboration.

AzerNews elaborated upon this development and also reminded its readers about a burgeoning arrangement for joint oil ventures between Iranian firms and Russia’s Lukoil. It is unclear how the French government would respond to any missteps by Peugeot, seeing as France has been noted for a hard line with Iran in nuclear negotiations but has also considered the possibility of allowing transactions with Iran to be routed through it national banks. But Russia has been a steadfast partner to Iran, meaning that the only real obstacles to Lukoil’s plans come from foreign sources.

These sorts of expressions of investor interest are, however, innocuous. But in some areas of the globe, the Iranian foothold, and by extension some of its economic opportunities there, are attributable to more illicit influences. Today’s Zaman on Tuesday posted a new update related to scuttled investigations of Tawhid-Salam, a terrorist group with known ties to Iran that has long operated inside of Turkey.

The report indicates that the organization had done far more than simply train individuals to carry out espionage and attacks. Rather, there are indications that the investigation into the group fell apart largely because of the involvement of some Turkish politicians in the Iran-backed terrorist cells.