Hostility Aside, Trump Eyes Iran Trade
EghtesadOnline: US President Donald Trump, who has never made a secret of his hostility toward Iran, called recently for a grand regional strategy among Sunni nations to isolate the country.
But Tehran received that threat with surprising equanimity because, in practice, the Trump administration has shown a willingness to do business with the country, the New York Times wrote in an article on Sunday.
On the surface, it looked as if there was a lot of bad news recently for the Islamic Republic.
At the recent Arab-American summit meeting in Saudi Arabia, Trump was the guest of the Saudi king, Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, a sworn enemy of Iran, and the countries signed a record-breaking $110 billion arms deal plus another $300 billion in other deals, Financial Tribune reported.
“Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace,” Trump said at the meeting, “all nations of conscience must work together to isolate Iran, deny it funding for terrorism.”
In response to the arms deal, Leader of Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said on Saturday such purchases would lead to nothing.
“These fools think by spending money they can win the friendship of the enemies of Islam,” he said. “They are like dairy cows. They will be milked, and when they are out of milk, they will be slaughtered.”
Tough talk from both sides, but back in Iran, they are awaiting the delivery of a fleet of American-made Boeing airliners, the result of two deals worth $22 billion for the United States company. The most recent contract between the plane maker and the Iranian airline Iran Aseman was signed two months after Trump was sworn into office.
***No Mood to Kill Deals
Trump, whose so-called America First campaign was based in part on the promise of reviving industrial employment, was apparently not eager to kill an order estimated to create 18,000 jobs.
During the presidential campaign, Trump heaped scorn on the nuclear agreement with Iran, calling it “the worst deal ever”. But in April and May he quietly signed crucial waivers of certain sanctions that allow the deal to remain in place and let Iran conduct international business and gain access to funds long frozen by the United States.
Further evidence that the Trump administration is willing to engage with the Islamic Republic came during Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s news conference in Riyadh, which followed the president’s hard-line speech. What if Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, happened to telephone him? Tillerson said he would take the call.
“In terms of whether I’d ever pick the phone up, I’ve never shut off the phone to anyone that wants to talk or have a productive conversation,” Tillerson said.
The Trump administration appears to have grasped an important point about Iran: The very thing that the administration complains and worries about —Iran’s expanding influence in the region— makes it imperative that the two countries maintain at least a working relationship.
The United States will have a hard time solving problems in the Mideast without Tehran’s cooperation: in Lebanon, where it backs the Shia resistance group Hezbollah; in Syria, where it is supporting the government of President Bashar al-Assad; in Iraq, where it supports the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and trains powerful Shia militias; and in Yemen, where to some extent, it is backing the Houthi rebels against the government.
Room for Compromise
That is why some analysts are saying there would be room for compromise if the two countries ever sat down to talk, with the US trading its control over the Iranian economy for concessions in regional affairs from Iran.
The Trump administration did impose a series of sanctions on individuals and companies after Iran conducted a missile test in February. But that was in line with policies set out by former president Barack Obama.
Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s recently reelected president, suggested that the two sides could possibly arrange talks after the Trump administration had more time in power and Tehran had more time to evaluate the American leader.
“We are waiting for the new US government to achieve stability in terms of taking a stance, agenda and mentality,” Rouhani said at a news conference last week. After that happens, he added, “we will have a more accurate view regarding Washington.”
Iran and the US broke off diplomatic relations in 1979, after the takeover of the US embassy in Tehran by revolutionary students. But they did speak directly during the negotiations which culminated in the 2015 nuclear deal.
The Iranian president is under pressure from conservatives in his country to shun direct talks with the US. But he can point to tangible benefits that have resulted from face-to-face meetings with the West.
The nuclear agreement would never have been reached without such dialogue, and the deal has helped ease the suffocating, worldwide sanctions that practically brought the Iranian economy to a standstill.
“They took part in the negotiations; and at the table, they respectfully spoke to the representatives of the Iranian nation,” Rouhani said of the American representatives to the nuclear negotiations. “We had a win-win outcome, one which I believe was to the benefit of Iran, major powers and the world.”
Rouhani needs such additional talks now to make good on his campaign promise to obtain relief from the unilateral United States sanctions that are still choking the Iranian economy. While many sanctions were lifted under the nuclear agreement, those remaining are still discouraging European banks from providing desperately needed financing for business deals and infrastructure projects in Iran.
On the American side, the private sector experience of many in the new US administration may make them more amenable to the idea of negotiations, suggested a reformist analyst of Iranian politics. “Trump, Tillerson, the others; this is an administration of businessmen. They solve problems by dealing, not fighting.”