04/20/2016, 20.45
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Odd alliance between the US and Iranian fundamentalists

by Bernardo Cervellera

Washington is still preventing the use of US dollars in transactions with Iranian banks, preventing business with the outside world in spite of the nuclear deal. This way, the US is helping Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards, who want to torpedo the agreement in order to maintain their hold on power. Meanwhile, most Iranians hold down two or three jobs just to make ends meet. An unstable and bellicose Iran is a boon for arms sales. A report follows.

Teheran (AsiaNews) - "Nothing has changed. Although the nuclear deal was signed, sanctions are still in place," said K, a young Tehran businessman who hoped to restart his import-export activity with the end of the embargo.

Iran, he told me dejectedly, is still marginalised by the international community and its economy remains "crippled". This is what then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wanted when the US imposed strict financial sanctions on Iran in response to the threat of its alleged nuclear weapons programme.

Right after the Vienna agreement was signed, many delegations from Germany, France, Italy and many other countries rushed to Iran, lured by the prospects of a country with a young population, in need of new infrastructure, eager to catch up after nearly 35 years of sanctions. Instead, nothing moves.

"If a company wants to sign a contract with an Iranian partner, it needs the backing of a European or an American bank; it requires coverage by an insurance company” K said, “but no one is moving, out of fear that the United States will block financial transactions."

Using the dollar

The problem is that the US has not yet lifted its restrictions on Iran using dollars in international deals. As result of this, many European banks and companies fear that resuming economic relations with Iran will leave them liable to millions of dollars in fines by the United States, like in the past.

Some days ago, a spokesperson for the White House said that the nuclear deal does not imply an obligation on the part of the United States to readmit fully Iran into the international economic community and that the Vienna agreement does not say that the end of sanctions includes the use of the US dollar in business dealings between non-US banks and Tehran.

In fact, the agreement does provide for an end to financial sanctions and renewed financial relations between the Islamic Republic and the rest of the world. For several experts, Washington’s narrow interpretation is at least contrary to the spirit of the agreement and de facto perpetuates the embargo.

Reality on the ground highlights the hardships Iranians face. Out of a population of almost 80 million, half is under the age of 35 years. Youth unemployment stands at 20 per cent with many Iranians hoping to emigrate for a better future. Life is not easy for those who want to remain.

"Myself and many people I know need to work at two or three jobs to support our families,” said Hassan, 40.  “I work in an office during the day, and at a mechanical cooperative in the evenings. Even my wife has been forced to work. During the day she is a teacher and in the evening she bakes sweets, and tries to sell them to pastry shops."

Tehran has become like New York, a "city that never sleeps." For the US metropolis, this title is because it is the capital of the globalised world, an engine of world finance. Tehran Instead is this way because it suffers from isolation. The financial prison in which the West has forced us pushes people to run here and there in search of more money to pay for the rent, food, and children’s schooling .

Revenge of the conservatives

EU foreign policy Chief Federica Mogherini recently travelled to Tehran in order to improve cooperation between the European Union and Iran and push the international community (i.e. the US) to facilitate trade.

Yesterday, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif met at the UN in New York to study ways to implement the nuclear agreement and speed up the end of the embargo. However, time is running out politically and from a humanitarian point of view.

Zarif’s success (and that of President Hassan Rouhani) with the agreement led to reformers’ victory in parliamentary elections and in the Assembly of Experts. Neither Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, nor the Revolutionary Guards, or rightwing circles like the end of the embargo because the latter has allowed them to monopolise large chunks of the Iranian economy.

"Iran’s return as a partner in the international community would force them to keep in mind public opinion and accept business competition,” said a journalist. “They want to avoid both."

Precisely for this reason, after the election, Khamenei began to launch attacks against the agreement, against the current president, against reformers, and against all those who support an overture to the outside world. They point to the fact that economic situation has not improved, and so argue that the agreement is useless.

"In my opinion,” said the journalist, “Khamenei is preparing the return of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former president who ruined Iran's relations with the international community due to its warmongering threats against the world and Israel. The next presidential elections is set for 2017, and Rouhani might not get another mandate."

Odd alliance

It almost seems that the US and Iranian fundamentalists are allied to scuttle the nuclear deal. The longer Washington takes to allow relations with the banks, the stronger Iran’s rightwing becomes. A country that has enormous wealth and potential for growth would once again be held back, with the population forced to survive, whilst the hardliners continue to get rich from the embargo.

Iran is not the only issue. Since Rouhani became president, Iran has been able to play a positive diplomatic role across the Middle East, in Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen.

Even though Saudi Arabia continues to accuse Tehran of financing terrorism (hiding its own support for the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State group), Tehran’s proposals have been more peaceful, moderate and open so far, with regards to Lebanon’s presidency, Syria peace negotiations in Geneva, and talks between the government and Houthi in Yemen.

The Saudi policy is haphazard, as well as more brutal, like threatening to withdraw its funds from Lebanon, disrupting the Geneva talks, escalating the war in Yemen, supporting every Mideast dictatorship, except Assad’s. By perpetuating the embargo, the United States seems to be supporting this situation.

Middle East scholar Shireen Hunter suggests two possible explanations. First, the United States wants Iran to remain unstable until regime change takes place, or possibly the country is dismembered as some of its neighbours would like. Second, it prefers Iran in the hands of its rightwing to scare its neighbours into buying weapons from France, Great Britain, and the United States. It is estimated that in the last 3-4 years Saudi Arabia bought weapons from the US worth US$ 90 billion; not to mention those bought by Qatar, UAE, Iraq, etc.

On one point however, the US and Iran agree, namely the fight against Daesh, the Islamic State group, for which Washington has indirectly turned to Tehran, perhaps the only effective partner in the region in the fight against Sunni extremism, which threatens Iran and all the capitals of the world.

Meanwhile, in the Iranian capital people are sure of one thing. "The 5 per cent of the population that is fundamentalist and anti-Western dominates the 95 per cent that would like to have friendly relations with the West,” said Hassan. “In the elections, we expressed our will, but to open up Iran to the world, we need a hand from the outside. Our fortunes depend on you."

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