President Hassan Rohani’s trip to Italy and France marks a new chapter in Iran’s relations with Europe in the new post-nuclear crisis era. With the removal of nuclear-related sanctions on Iran as a result of the historic nuclear agreement, the stage is now set for a brave new chapter in healthy trade and non-trade relations between Iran and Europe. To ‘re-set’ the economic ties battered by the sanctions, both sides are looking to clinch numerous multi-billion dollar deals including a major order for 114 Airbus planes.
In his 5-day tour of European capitals, President Rohani, who is accompanied by a large trade delegation, will meet both the Italian and French presidents, as well as the Pope, ahead of a new Syria talk in Geneva, in light of the refuge-weary Europe’s need for Iran’s cooperation to end the bloody conflict in Syria which has led to the tsunami of refugees to Europe threatening the EU’s integrity. In Iran, Europe today finds a reliable partner in the tough struggle against terrorism, threatening the continent. There are thus huge economic and security stakes involved in Europe’s “re-set” with Iran in the new post-sanctions milieu.
President Rohani’s trip transpires only a few days after the ‘historic’ Tehran visit by China’s President Xi Jinping resulting in the signing of 17 new trade and investment agreements involving energy, transportation, railways, ports, industry, and commercial services. Intent on maintaining a healthy balance in East and West relations, President Rohani’s aim in his European visit is to expand trade and bolster cooperation with the European countries, in light of the eagerness of many European firms to re-enter the Iranian market.
Case in point, the Iranian media have reported that representatives from some 500 Italian companies will meet with President Rohani, who is eager to reverse the recent shrinking of Italy’s sanctions-based trade with Iran. France, on the other hand, is looking forward to Rohani’s trip as several companies, including Peugeot, which pulled out of Iran in 2012, are seeking to resume their joint ventures with the Iranian companies and thus rip the economic benefits of post-sanctions Iran. The normalization of banking and financial transactions between Iranian and European banks is also another top priority, in light of the SWIFT’s recent notice regarding Iran.
Meanwhile, the US continues to self-sanction itself by counterproductive behavior, such as imposing visa restrictions on Europeans who travel to Iran, which has raised the ire of European lawmakers. Instead of ripping the economic benefits of leading the West’s nuclear diplomacy on Iran, US has been sidelined as its European partners race to gain the benefits of Iran’s ‘re-opening’ to the West.
Hopefully, the US lawmakers can draw the right lessons from Rohani’s big embrace by the European leaders and adjust themselves away from the present pattern of self-inflicted wounds that severely limit the ability of US firms to engage with Iran. In other words, Europe’s ‘re-set’ with Iran can have salutary effects on US-Iran relations, which continue to be hampered by non-nuclear obstructions, such as the newly-imposed US sanctions on Iran over its conventional missile program.
Still, despite such negative initiatives, the US’s business doors to Iran are not entirely closed, as US subsidiaries overseas are permitted under the nuclear deal to do normal business with Iran, although many US firms will likely adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach until after the 2016 presidential elections in US. This might be a costly delay, however, as the European and Asian competitors re-enter the Iranian market and grab profitable contracts. Nonetheless, the much-anticipated new Iran-West relations in the post-sanctions era has now begun and that is ground for much political optimism.