Iran is Back: With Int’l Sanctions lifted and Putin Friendly, Tehran is on a Roll

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Iranian petroleum sales to its top four Asian customers rose nearly 60% year on year in March, and total exports have reached nearly 3 million barrels a day. Just four countries accounted for over 2/3s of the total exports– China, India, South Korea and Japan. South Korea and Japan in particular had been strong-armed by the Obama administration to cut oil purchases from Iran, in order to force Tehran to the bargaining table. But international sanctions were lifted in January of 2016, and Iran’s Asian trading partners seem just delighted to ramp up imports.

Although the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has attempted to impose a reduction of exports on member states, so as to firm up weak oil prices, the organization exempted Iran so that it could try to recover the market share it lost under the Obama sanctions. Iran’s exports were reduced to as little as 1 mn barrels per day in the period of severe sanctions imposed by the Obama administration and its allies.

The French firm Total S.A. is also going ahead with plans to invest massively in Iran’s South Pars natural gas fields, and is waiting on the US Department of the Treasury to OK the deal. Total does not want to risk huge fines if the DoT later on decides that, e.g., the exploitation of the gas fields benefits groups sanctioned by the US, doing business with whom is risky.

As Iranian president Hassan Rouhani visited Moscow last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Iran’s trade with Russia is up 70% in the past year. Putin pledged to build 20 nuclear power reactors for Iran, and to arrange for Russian natural gas companies to help exploit Iranian gas. Putin said last week, according to BBC monitoring, “the possibility of exporting Sukhoi Superjet 100 aircraft as well as aircraft for medical use is on the agenda.” Russia is also alleged to have sold to Iran the S-300 anti-aircraft defense system.

Despite substantial economic progress after international sanctions were lifted, Iran’s clerical Leader, Ali Khamenei, slammed the state of the economy and complained that Iran had gotten little from negotiating for the nuclear deal. It seems to me that Khamenei must be politicking in hopes of ending President Hassan Rouhani’s time in power. Rouhani is running for a second term, with the elections coming up in May. As a centrist who was willing to negotiate with the US directly, Rouhani has attracted the ire of hard liners–though he is himself a cleric. Khamenei may be playing politics, but it is the case that Iran’s middle classes suffered from sanctions, and are eager to see the economy roll along again. They now have to decide whether to stick with Rouhani, who has had some successes, or to head hard line voices and dump the president in favor of someone closer to the top clerical power elite.


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Posted in Featured,Iran | 14 Responses | Print |

14 Responses

  1. Someone in the neighborhood is going to be so envious!
    Time for that cartoon bomb prop again, and the war mongering to start.

  2. Let’s hope the hardliners there, and in Israel and DC, don’t abort positive developments.

    On another matter, admittedly off topic, I just noticed a report on NBC about Pakistan — “Twenty people were tortured and then murdered with clubs and knives at a Pakistani Sufi shrine, police said Sunday, in what officials are calling a cult ritual.”

    Every religion has its cults (e.g., Jim Jones) so I don’t find this beyond belief. On the other hand, I have thought of Sufis as generally a pacific, mystical group, sometimes subject to persecution in Pakistan. So I wonder if this report should be taken at face value.

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    • The Sargodha situation is murky and it is weird to say it is a matter of a cult. The keeper of a Sufi shrine seems to have gone bonkers and killed his own visitors. There is no reason to think the shrine congregants were a ‘cult.’ Some suggest that the shrine keeper went Taliban. We’ll see.

  3. A minor correction, last week President Rouhani of Iran went on his first official visit to Moscow, although he had met Putin seven times before on the margins of other meetings, and not the other way round.

    The fact is that with its Israeli and AIPAC-inspired policies the US Administration and Congress are pushing Iran towards Russia and China, despite Iranian government and especially Iran people’s desire to get closer to the West. However, despite closer relations with Russia, Iran is under a greater danger now than at any other time since the invasion of Iraq by the Bush Administration. The current U.S. Administration is the most anti-Iranian administration in U.S. history, with most of its leading figures having personal grudges against Iran.

    The Pentagon’s growing support for Saudi Arabia’s disastrous two-year-old war against the Houthis in Yemen has been partly aimed at reducing Iran’s alleged influence in the region. CENTCOM Chief, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, told Congress last week that “there are vital U.S. interests at stake” in Yemen and he referred to Iran as a “destabilizing force”, despite the fact that as you and many other experts have pointed out Iran’s influence with the Houthis and its interest in Yemen are marginal, and it is mainly Saudi propaganda to portray her aggression against Yemen as a proxy war with Iran.

    Iran’s Sanctions Bill that the Senate introduced last week and the attempt to designate Iran’s Revolution Guards as a terrorist organization (which has been an AIPAC priority) are not only extremely hostile towards Iran, but a violation of US commitments under the nuclear agreement. The continuation of such hostile policies is bound to lead to a direct confrontation with Iran. Such a conflict might benefit Russia, but certainly not Iran or the United States.

    • An AP article published today in my local paper detailed the growing number of US troops deployed in the Middle
      East and Somalia and the fact that the Trump Administration is basically letting the Pentagon set a lot of military and even foreign policy. Now we have a top general declaring that Yemen is a vital US interest?? This is truly scary. Fasten your seatbelts; it could be a bumpy ride as we amp up intervention in more and more countries.

    • “Iran is under a greater danger now than at any other time since the invasion of Iraq by the Bush Administration.”
      I don’t see how? All her adversaries and competitors are mired in disarray and led by incompetence and no matter what they do, Iran wins. It has been a trend for decades now.

      • Iran has never been under any serious danger from the likes of Saddam Hussein or Saudi rulers. They would not dare attack Iran without Western support. Even Saddam needed a great deal of encouragement before he agreed to attack Iran. According to a confidential memo written in 1982 by the former U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig to Ronald Reagan, using the Saudis as go-between President Carter had given Saddam a green light to attack Iran, and of course he was supported completely by the West as well as by the former Soviet Union. In fact, on the eve of his invasion of Iran, Saddam met with the then Saudi monarch Khalid bin Abd al-Aziz and with the late King Hussein of Jordan to receive reassurances from them.
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        The main danger that Iran faces comes from Israel that has constantly campaigned for a U.S. attack on Iran, and from the United States. According to the late Shimon Peres, Netanyahu was intent on launching an attack on Iran and was prevented from doing so by Peres. There is plenty of evidence to show that President George W. Bush would have attacked Iran had the Iraqi invasion gone as well as had been hoped. His designation of Iran, Iraq and North Korea as the “Axis of Evil” was a preparation for a military attack.

        As I mentioned in my last comment, U.S. Congress and some members of the current U.S. Administration, including the President, are intensely hostile towards Iran and, judging by their recent provocative moves, they seem to be determined to find an excuse to attack Iran.

        Many Iranians inside and outside Iran would like to see an end to the current clerical regime, but they do not like to see the disasters inflicted on Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen to be repeated in the case of Iran too. Iran has a defective form of democracy, which means that there is hope for a peaceful change from within, which would be much more lasting than any foreign invasion and forced “democratization”.

        • The story that Carter gave a green light for Iraq to attack Iran is not supported by any documentary evidence and is flatly contradicted by Gary Sick, who was on the Iran desk at the National Security Council in that period. It also doesn’t fit with what we know of Carter.

        • Israel and congress are setting up military aid increase. The attack on Iran is to please and reassure the Saudis and we will use the force of the mightiest military in the world to bomb Yemen. Iran won again!

  4. My prediction: The grifter in the White House, stumbling from one domestic disaster to the next, is bound to gin up a limited military adventure to rally the nation in the very near future.

  5. I am far from an expert on Iran, but what I see is a regime that will be confronted with a demographic tidal wave in the next five years. Huff post reported a few months ago, 85 percent of Iranians desire better relations with the west. The ayatollah last summer issued a proclamation on how they were going to make sure the elections are transparent. Rhouhani warned the government not to interfere in the elections last December. The regime is dying a slow death. I think they are smart enough to know it. It would be nice if the idiots in DC were cognizant of this and would curb their appetite for doing things that support the hardliners.

    • Ideological regimes eventually come to realize that they have to have at least a modicum of public support and be able to put food on the table and a bearable life for their citizens. North Korea being an exception. Thus, this is a natural evolution for Iran. However, the neo-cons and just plain cons are bereft of knowledge or insight and many seem hell bent on trying to overthrow the Iranian regime. Let’s hope that the Trumpian scandals so discredit his regime that they are unable to get support for such idiocy.

  6. Perhaps one day Professor Cole could explain in detail how Iran is “destabilizing” the Middle East…according to Mad Dog Mattis and other Pentagon pit bulls.

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