EU Financial Mechanism Not a Panacea for Iran's Economic Woes
Following the meeting between the foreign ministers of 4+1 and Iran in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, the Europeans officially announced that they would launch a new mechanism for engaging with Iran, so that their financial deals with Tehran would stay immune to US sanctions. A Euro-based system will be established that cannot be sanctioned by the United States, and Iran's trade with Europe will be carried out through this vehicle. The system is slated to be operational before November 4th, the date of the US sanctions snap-back.
This European mechanism is completely new and unprecedented. In fact, one of the main reasons for prolongation of the announcement of the European solution to rescue the nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is the novelty of the solution and studies and researches that have been conducted and details which been examined by experts by both Iranian and European experts.
The European initiative, although worthy and able to persuade Iran to stay in the JCPOA, is obviously not enough. Iran cannot tie its hope the European system and its effectiveness. Europeans, although they have acted beyond expectation so far, should not be our only hope. It is not clear how the Americans will react to this mechanism, and we do not know how that mechanism will act. As said, it's completely new, and since it has not yet passed the tests. It is unclear how successful it will be and how it can meet Iran's needs. This is the fact that everyone, including Mr. Zarif, our Foreign Minister, is aware of it.
At best, the European mechanism can be just one of the tools to solve the economic problems of Iran. Our problems are abundant, and this tool can be partially helpful for these problems. Let’s not forget that Iran is located in a geopolitically and geoeconomically critical location, neighboring 15 countries and two large bodies of water in the north and south.
What Iran should look for is the use of its regional capacities. Iran is not an island. It cannot be sieged. Even if Americans cannot understand this fact, we must understand it. With a gross domestic product of nearly 400 billion USD, Iran is very different from Iraq during Saddam Hussein's era, whose GDP had fallen to 6 billion USD after international sanctions. Americans should not think they can use the same ruse against Iran with its large economy.
Iran is a country with diverse features, and located at the intersection of three important geopolitical regions. North, south and west of Iran with its diverse and big neighbors along the two great seas are distinguished features of the country.
Iran is bordered in the west and the northwest by Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia, which could provide a very valuable opportunity for Iran. Particularly that our northwestern ethnic groups speak the same language of people on the other side of the borders and shared cultural features with them. Turkey has a gross domestic product of 857 billion USD. We can take advantage of this capacity. Azerbaijan and Armenia, and also Georgia, are countries that Iran can use to its full potential.
In addition to being a political power, Russia is an economic power in north of Iran. Russia became the world's largest oil exporter in September. Russian GDP is estimated at around 1,283 billion USD. Far from the Soviet era mentality, Russia is a power seeking an open economy and has many capacities for cooperation. We have focused on the political benefits of Russia, while we could make a different approach to Russia with a realistic and comprehensive approach and casting away old-fashioned sentiments. We need to expand the volume of our economic cooperation with Russia more than ever.
An Iranian businessman should be able to travel in a matter of days from Iran to Russia, and from there to Georgia and Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. We need to capitalize on Turkmenistan, with a small population but proper facilities. We need to cement such relationships and expand economic and social infrastructure so that our social and economic interactions with our northern and western become as simple as such as our inter-provincial interactions. We need to develop our rail, sea, and land transportation system for this purpose as soon as possible and make the most of the current facilities to achieve this goal.
The same story holds true in south. Iran could serve as a bridge between its western borders from Iraq to Oman and Pakistan to the east and southeast. Iran must take full advantage of Iraq’s economic capabilities. We must define regional ‘economic circles’ for ourselves. We must deregulate trade laws as soon as possible and develop relations with our neighbors. In this way, we can form an economic chain from China to Europe.
Europe can become a model for our regional interactions, just as Southeast Asian countries have used this model and turned their region into a regional village similar to Europe. Just as a British citizen can easily travel to easternmost point of Europe, or an Singaporean citizen can travel with no difficulties to Indonesia or Malaysia, there should be facilities for an Iranian citizen to easily travel from east to west.
Taking advantage of environmental and regional potentials -that unfortunately have not been exploited throughout the recent years- can save us from many of our economic problems. As Turkey was able to expand its sphere of influence and economic presence from Northeast Asia to Mongolia and from west to east of Europe, or to reach Qatar market via Iran, thanks to viewing its neighbors as economic vessels, we should also see the economic opportunities embedded in our surrounding area.
The European Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) can serve as facilitator of our economic transactions, but more importantly, regional economic, political, and social developments which can protect us from the plight of many of our enemies.