Iran takes page from US Treasury’s playbook

Jul 14, 2016 12:00 AM


Prior to his visits to France and the Netherlands — Zarif’s third such tour of Europe since taking office in August 2013 — the Iranian foreign minister visited Italy, Poland, Finland, Sweden and Latvia. But what are the reasons for Zarif’s intensified engagement with Europe?

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was formally implemented on Jan. 16. As such, Iran and the six world powers it negotiated the nuclear deal with — China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States and Germany — took steps to live up to their commitments. For its part, Iran has been committed to the JCPOA, which the International Atomic Energy Agency has verified. Yet, implementation issues on the part of the six world powers have emerged. For instance, Western unilateral sanctions that target Iranian banks — causing serious problems for Iran — have been formally lifted. Yet, major banks are still hesitant to engage with Iran.

Indeed, many in Tehran now believe the United States is stalling the effective implementation of the nuclear deal due to its still contentious relationship with Iran.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has said repeatedly in meetings with Zarif that he has given reassurances to top European banks that they can resume ties with Iran as long as they conduct "legitimate business” and proper due diligence.

Given that this has failed to persuade Western banks to engage with Iran, Zarif appears to have decided to tackle the issue on his own — perhaps modeled on the role played by the former US Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, David S. Cohen.

As the Washington Post has reported, Cohen — known as the architect of the sanctions on Iran and Russia — in the past traveled frequently to the Middle East and Europe to enlist other countries in US efforts to impose economic chokeholds on adversaries.

Referring to Cohen’s past endeavors, Zarif told Iranian members of parliament in a special hearing on Sept. 13 last year, “Mr. Cohen went to various countries and asked them whether they are ready to pay the price for having a relationship with Iran.” He added, “Thus, [various] countries and companies became overcompliant [with sanctions enforcement]. This means that they were overly committed to the sanctions, owing to their concerns over possible [US] pressures of having a relationship with Iran.”

Knowing exactly how the United States managed to effectively impose its sanctions on Iran, Zarif now appears to be following in Cohen’s footsteps — in a converse effort to unwind the sanctions.

In an interview with Al-Monitor, Iran’s former representative to the Vienna headquarters of the United Nations, Ali Khorram, said, “Mr. Zarif, as Iran’s foreign minister, is doing his best to facilitate the nuclear deal’s implementation. That is why he is traveling nonstop to revive Iran’s past relationship with the Europeans.”

In his endeavor to convince major banks to re-engage with Iran, it appears that Zarif is counting chiefly on the role of France.

The diplomatic relationship between Tehran and Paris has been greatly stepped up since the conclusion of the JCPOA on July 14, 2015. Indeed, in an indication of the latter, while welcoming Zarif in late June, Gerard Larcher, the president of the French Senate, said, “Lately, we get to see you every three months.” Moreover, in a meeting with members of the French Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee during his recent visit, Zarif said, “In the 1990s, France played an important role in not allowing the US transboundary sanctions against Iran to succeed.” He added, “I think the French and European banks should break the negative atmosphere that has remained from the sanctions period. This is for the benefit of all. In some cases the banking problems are solvable, but some other cases need a joint effort. We believe Iran-France relationships can be a model for the nuclear deal implementation.”

Separately, in a joint press conference with Zarif June 22, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said, “We try to get sanctions against Iran removed, so that trust can be established between our countries. We continue our direct and clear talks with Americans [concerning the sanctions issue]. Mr. Zarif will also continue his cooperation with Europe.”

Further explaining Zarif’s plans, Khorram told Al-Monitor, “Iran’s relationship with the European Union is different to the nature of Tehran’s ties with Washington. We have close relations with the Europeans, and especially France. Paris has an independent position toward different issues — including Iran — unlike the United Kingdom that is counted as a strategic partner of the United States.”

Despite his engagement with particularly France, Zarif is not limiting his efforts to just one major European country. In his recent trip to the Netherlands — which is now holding the rotating presidency of the European Union — he met with several senior Dutch officials, including his counterpart as well as the economy minister.

Of note, on May 21, the deputy Iranian oil minister for international affairs, Amir Hossein Zamaninia, stated that a representative of the Dutch government recently traveled to Iran to facilitate “banking relations.”

After meeting with Zarif, Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said, “We will keep on playing a constructive role in facilitating the banking relationships between Europe and Iran.” He added, “We discussed with Foreign Minister Zarif the possibility of conducting major transactions between Europe and Iran through a Dutch bank.”

Thus, apart from his diplomatic duties, it appears that Zarif is now also pursuing efforts to help revive the Iranian economy by making sure that obstacles in the way of the implementation of the nuclear deal — which he reached after two years of intensive negotiations — will finally be removed.

Only time will tell whether the Iranian foreign minister’s efforts will succeed.


Rohollah Faghihi
Contributor,  Iran Pulse

Rohollah Faghihi is a journalist who has worked for various Iranian media organizations including the Entekhab news site. On Twitter: @FaghihiRohollah

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