In a private meeting with the Iranian leadership, the Leader of the Revolution, Sayyed Ali Khamenei, recommended a four-step plan to confront US sanctions and US threats to Iran.
The first step suggested by Sayyed Ali Khamenei is for Iran to develop its resources and reduce imports to a minimum level in the years to come. Iran’s imports range from 40 to 65 billion dollars a year (in 2010, Iranian imports reached $65.4 billion while in 2017, they amounted to $51.6 billion). These imports are mainly related to machinery, computers and phone system devices, pharmaceuticals and medical instruments, electrical machinery, wheat, cereals and corn, rice and soya beans, transport vehicles, iron and flat-rolled steel, and organic chemicals. The United Arab Emirates and China are Iran’s main import partners, along with South Korea, Turkey and Germany. EU exports to Iran are worth around $10 billion per year.
The second recommendation is for Iran to behave on the premise that it has no loyal and established friends. The Leader of the revolution indicated that relationships with countries should be based on mutual interest rather than strategically established. Iran should count on its capabilities to defend its existence and continuity, without isolating itself. Countries may stand with Iran for their common benefit and interest, but such alliances should be considered related to circumstances and opportunities rather than taken for granted.
The third recommendation would be to ease domestic pressure on all political parties, including reformers (Mehdi karroubi, Mir Hossein Mousavi, Zahra Rafsanjani). The Iranian leadership considers national unity of paramount importance in this period of crisis that may last for another five years if Donald Trump is re-elected. Moreover, Iran has taken a unified stand against US sanctions; moderates such as President Hassan Rouhani and his Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif have adopted hard-line positions, similar to those of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s fourth recommendation is that Iran relies much less on oil export revenues in the future. Iran’s annual crude petroleum shipments are worth 21 to 27 billion dollars, representing 4.3% of the world market share. The Iranian leader suggested increasing and diversifying other domestic products Iran could export, mainly but not exclusively to neighbouring countries. This measure is meant to lessen the effect of US sanctions on Iranian energy exports, in place not only under the Trump administration but also under previous US administrations throughout the life of the “Islamic Revolution” (1979).
The Iranian leadership believes the US does not sincerely aim to severely weaken Iran, but rather is using Tehran’s growing military capabilities as a sales argument to increase deals of weapons to US Middle Eastern allies who consider themselves Iran’s enemies.
It is also believed that the US would not be happy to see Iran totally in bed with China and Russia as its two main strategic commercial and military partners. The US would instead seek a comprehensive agreement to have its share of the Iranian market and relationship.
There is no doubt –the Iranian leadership agrees- that Tehran could eventually accept a US request to sit around a negotiation table and tackle the issue of Iran’s presence in Syria and its influence in other Middle Eastern countries (i.e. Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen). However, nothing can happen before Trump lifts the sanctions and acknowledges the nuclear deal.
However, Iran is aware that Trump cannot walk back on his decision due to electoral reasons. The US President climbed up a tree and can’t find his way down. Iran can help Trump if he will look the other way as Iran sells two million barrels of oil daily, as he is doing with over 30 million cubic feet of gas Iran is currently selling to Iraq. Iran’s leaders are following Deng Xiaoping’s precept : “I don’t care if the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice”. If Trump grants anything less, Iran will not help Trump win his second term in 2020 but will instead contribute to his failure to do so.
Notwithstanding Iran’s willingness to negotiate and lower current levels of tension, it seems there are non-negotiable red-lines: its capability to continue developing its missiles capabilities and its obligation to support its partners in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan.
On the forthcoming 7thof July, the 60 days warning ends and Iran is already preparing to withdraw from the nuclear deal gradually. Europe seems – so far – unready to step in and stand against US hegemony and sanctions. It is unlikely that the Old Continent’s leaders will choose to antagonise the US in exchange for 10 billion dollars’ worth of commercial exchange with Iran. However, the issue involves more than finance: it would be unprecedented for European countries who, unlike the US, profess adherence to norms of law and justice, to dishonour a deal of their own making and to revoke international agreements signed by their leaders. Moreover, Europe’s INSTEX monetary mechanism to facilitate trade between Europe and Iran in the face of US sanctions has not been implemented. Iran has expressed its discontent with Europe’s lack of commitment.
Yukiya Amano, the International Atomic Energy Agency chief, announced that Iran has increased its levels of enrichment uranium, and Iran concurred. US sanctions are leading Iran to accumulate centrifuges (due to the lack of exportation rights); Iran is upgrading them from IR1 to IR6 and is threatening to go to “cascades of IR8”. Although the US claims to be unconcerned about the nuclear deal and has unilaterally abandoned it to the displeasure of signatory countries, triggering military tension in the Middle East, the US Ambassador to Vienna Jackie Wolcott found the courage to accuse Iran of “violating the deal, causing great concern to all of us”.
Everything indicates that the Middle Eastern Summer will be hot, although war seems unlikely. The bras-de-fer is expected to remain high on the US and Iran’s agenda with neither side willing to stand down and ease tensions. The 7thof July is not far away and will undoubtedly disclose more surprises. Iran has the initiative on its side and Trump and his neo-cons can only wait for the next step.
Proofread by: C.G.B