For those familiar with the history of Russia’s centuries-old foreign policy towards Iran, the news last week of the Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani visiting Moscow to meet with senior Russian leaders despite a U.N. Security Council resolution barring him from leaving Iran would have come as no surprise.
According to Western intelligence agencies, on July 24, one week before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Iran nuclear deal, Soleimani arrived in Moscow for meetings with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and President Vladimir Putin.
Sanctioned by the U.S. in 2005 for his role in supporting the Assad regime, and for abetting terrorism, Soleimani belongs to a faction of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard whose pro-Moscow tendencies are nowhere more conspicuous than their military support for the dictatorial regime of Bashir Assad in Syria, the closest ally of Russia in the Middle East.
From using the Iran card to secure concessions from Western governments by not using its veto power against UN Security Councils’ paralysing economic sanctions on Iran, to calling for a diplomatic resolution of Iran’s nuclear crisis, in the words of US Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, “…Russia [has] not been negotiating on our side of the table. It is in [their] interests that Iran’s economy is open. And so in many ways they have been negotiating on Iran’s side of the table.”
Back in April, President Putin lifted Russia’s self-imposed embargo on delivering S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran that Tehran signed an $800 million contract for in 2007. The Russian refusal at the time had more to do with whether Iran was able to pay for the purchase than Moscow’s gesture of cooperation with the world community to curb its suspected nuclear program.
But now, the clerical regime of Iran has US$150 billion in its pockets.
Or that is more or less how much the U.S. Treasury Department says Iran will gain once sanctions are lifted under the nuclear deal. The money comes from Iranian oil sales that have been piling up in international banks over the past few years. But there are questions about what Iran will do with this windfall.
However, Iranian economists have warned that if the funds end up in the hands of the very interest groups who have benefitted from sanction-busting activities, and that includes the Revolutionary Guard, the wealth of the Iranian people will be plundered once again, instead of channelling them into the reconstruction plans that the country badly needs after years of isolation.
Furthermore, as Western companies rush to strike lucrative deals with Iran, most of their contracts will be with enterprises that are behind Iran’s massive black market with direct links with its religious establishments.
Many Iranian economists would accept that the released funds can only serve the interests of the country if the government plans to invest them in Iran’s depreciated industries and create job opportunities, rather than splashing it among corrupt state organsations or purchasing second hand and obsolete technology from foreign firms.
China is another country with great interest to see the removal of economic sanctions and Iran’s economy becoming open to expand its cheap energy business with Iran.
Tahmaseb Mazaehri, the former Governor of Iran’s Central Bank has described the country’s frozen monies for the sale of oil to China as “imprisoned”, where the Chinese are only willing to return them in exchange for Iran buying their own products.
There are also concerns that while President Obama’s administration argues that a majority of the Iranian funds will be invested in the development of the Iranian economy, a part of it will certainly be channelled to Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
“We have no ability to constrain Iran if they want to spend all US$100 billion on funding Hezbollah or other terrorist organizations,”Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for Defence of Democracies has warned. “But when you’re getting aUS$100 billion-plus cash windfall, even if you’re spending 5 to 10 percent of that only on the regional activities and your support for terrorism, that’s an extra US$5 to US$10 billion dollars-plus.”
Mousa Servati, the head of the Budget and Economic Planning of Iran’s Majles (parliament) has now summed up what will eventually happen to the released funds by announcing that “almost the entire amount of all Iran’s frozen assets and funds due to the sanctions have already been spent by the government towards its international obligations”.
13 August 2015