by Zafar Bangash (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 12, Rabi' al-Thani, 1435)
Businessmen, diplomats and politicians are making a beeline to Tehran with proposals and offers reflecting Iran’s position as the most important regional player and the place to be.
Three things are immediately noticeable upon arrival in Tehran: the very large number of foreign delegations, especially Chinese, Korean and Japanese but also many Europeans, descending on Tehran clutching bulging briefcases. They are there with business proposals. Rich pickings can be made in Iran. Second, the Tehran skyline is rapidly changing with cranes and skyscrapers dotting the picturesque landscape with Alburz Mountains in the background. Third, there is the now familiar smog, modernity’s gift to any metropolis where cars ply the multiple lane highways that criss-cross the huge city.
If any Western talking heads or politicians still harbor illusions about Iran suffering from sanctions, they should drop in on Tehran. It is time they disabused their minds of such silly notions. They can fool their own public that has little knowledge of Iran but the reality is very different. Norman Lamonte, the former British Treasury Secretary told a colleague upon return from a visit to Tehran with a delegation led by the former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw last month, that he was astonished at the number of German businessmen visiting Iran. Lamonte lamented the absence of British businessmen. He said he would make sure this message was communicated to the British government so that corrective steps are taken immediately.
As a result of the illegal sanctions, Iran has had to rely on its own resources and expertise and made important strides in many fields. Tehran is not only expanding rapidly but there are multiple tiered highways to help ease some of the traffic congestion. Tehran’s metro has also helped in easing congestion but the fact that people keep streaming into Tehran does not help. The more services — roads, metro and designated bus lanes — are provided, the more people tend to use and crowd them.
There is an air of expectancy in Iran. While opinion about the result of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear deal is clearly divided and whether the US can truly be trusted to live up to its part of the deal, there is much greater hope that things are looking up. The new administration in Iran has moved quickly to ease tensions with neighbors. With the exception of Saudi Arabia, Iran’s other neighbors, including Turkey are keen to improve ties despite differences over Syria. In fact, all of Iran’s neighbors have realized that Islamic Iran is here to stay and that without its involvement, the regional outlook and atmosphere cannot be improved. In a BBC interview on January 20, Shaikh Muhammad ibn Rashid al-Maktoum of Dubai called for lifting of all sanctions against Iran. This was an important gesture from the ruler of Dubai.
It is on the issue of negotiations with the P5+1, especially the US, that opinion is sharply divided. Those in favor of talks say that Iran has nothing to hide in its nuclear program and that it wants to deprive the West of any excuses to continue with the sanctions regime. There is little doubt that many Iranians support the lifting of sanctions so that they can import many items of necessity, such as medicines, into the country. From the government’s point of view, Iran must have access to the $100 billion stuck in foreign banks because of sanctions on Iran’s banking system as well as oil sales.
Those opposed to the US argue that Western officials know the truth about Iran’s peaceful nuclear program. It is merely an excuse to put pressure on Iran. The West’s ultimate aim is to force Iran into a situation where it would give up its Islamic principles that are at the heart of the revolution. Regardless of what proof Iran offers to the West about its peaceful nuclear program, Western rulers will come up with other demands, such as ending support for Hizbullah or the Palestinians, always holding the lifting of sanctions as a carrot, they argue. There is much merit in this point.
It will be interesting to see how these negotiations play out and whether the West, especially the US, can be trusted to live up to its side of the deal. Already the US is misinterpreting the interim deal to secure advantage in future negotiations.
The US is untrustworthy and Tehran would be well advised to deal with it cautiously.
Zafar Bangash is Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought