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Obama and Iran in business

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Obama and Iran in business


The early bird really does catch the worm and, mindful of that, European firms are rushing with headlong alacrity to do deals with Iran.

The early bird really does catch the worm and, mindful of that, European firms are rushing with headlong alacrity to do deals with Iran – even though pro forma only some sanctions on the ayatollah regime have been lifted.

Europe’s eagerness might well give the impression to the uninitiated that all sanctions were dropped.

It seems reentering the Iranian market is a chance not to be missed for a gamut of concerns – from banks and financial conglomerates to the oil and gas sector and even car makers and assorted other manufacturers.

The French, for example, are flying planeloads of executives from no fewer than 100 firms for “exploratory talks” hot on the heels of the partial sanctions suspension.

Their German, Dutch and Swiss counterparts are not far behind. Simultaneously, from Asia come equally keen Chinese and Indian overtures toward Tehran.

While Europeans and Asians fall over themselves to restore chumminess with Iran – its terror-mongering and nuclear machinations notwithstanding – the international community is awash with amplified boycott threats against democratic Israel.

Washington, which once spearheaded sanctions but has now eased them, is setting the tone for the surge of interest in the Iranian economy.

The Islamic Republic’s business boosters could only take heart from US President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday. His principal foray into the mine field of foreign relations was to declare his intention to veto the conditional sanctions bill sponsored by a bipartisan group of senators – 13 Democrats and 13 Republicans. This bill would exacerbate sanctions only in the event that negotiations with Iran on a final agreement fail.

Ostensibly, this should not rile Obama, as it reinforces his bargaining position.

But instead, the US leader exploited his most important annual address to put his political weight behind the Iranians against a bipartisan coalition representing the majority of American congressmen. This is nothing if not extraordinary.

Obama appears to side with his Iranian interlocutors, who had already lashed out against the legislation, warning that its passage would scuttle the interim agreement reached in Geneva in November. But that is patently specious. The bill’s very rationale is that sanctions would be intensified only if talks fail.

Obama acknowledges that Tehran was compelled to accept the interim agreement because the sanctions inflicted substantial pain on its economy. The natural assumption then should be that Iran would be motivated to be more accommodating by the prospect of tougher constraints on its oil exports, access to bank holdings abroad and funding for assorted construction and other projects in the country.

The inescapable conclusion is that Obama – in the name of diplomatic prudence – has come out forcefully in defense of the Iranian position while Iran and the US in continue to be at loggerheads, including on how to interpret the interim deal.

Tehran, in other words, can literally stick to its guns and evince an extreme hardnosed approach, while Washington’s response is implausible indulgence that triggers an unnerving competition in Europe and Asia for Iranian business.

If anything, the Senate bill, authored by Democrat Robert Menendez and Republican Mark Kirk, might cool the ardor to curry favor with the Islamic Republic. Its unmistakable bottom line is that any investment in Iran before a final nuclear deal is struck is unsafe.

It is obvious why Iran should bristle against this measure.

The bet in Tehran is that the limited sanctions reprieve will generate an across-the-board collapse of the entire sanctions structure. This could spawn a fait accompli even if the talks are irredeemably deadlocked.

But while Iran’s self-serving logic is transparent, it is exceedingly difficult to fathom the White House’s reasoning.

The bill would not curtail Obama’s freedom to negotiate, as long as he focuses on his much-touted goal of actually dismantling Iran’s rogue nuclear project rather than settling for its sham pledges to do so.

If Obama were truly sincere in wishing to ensure Israel is safe from the menace of Iranian nukes, he surely would not oppose even such minimal pressure on the mullahs. 

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