Iran Dispute in US a Side-Show for World

Iran Dispute in US  a Side-Show for WorldIran Dispute in US  a Side-Show for World

As the US Congress was debating the merits of the Iran nuclear deal last week, the US political world was whipping itself into a frenzy. Not so much the rest of the world — it was busy restoring relations with Tehran and inking contracts with Iranian firms.

Republicans tried last week to push through a resolution of disapproval of the nuclear deal and a second vote, also expected to fail, was scheduled for Tuesday.

But US companies will be sidelined no matter how the US political tussle plays out because core sanctions imposed by Washington will remain even after the nuclear-related sanctions are lifted.

These secondary sanctions are linked to US charges of Iranian human rights violations, terrorism and other allegations of wrongdoing. They have the effect of banning doing business with Iran, with only few exceptions, such as supplying parts for Iran's civilian aviation sector.

"Non-US companies are not in general subject to the US sanctions," says William McGlone, a Washington-based lawyer specializing in sanctions law, the AP reported.  

"As long as a non-US company is not involved in using persons or operations in the United States, then in general those companies could proceed with their transactions."

***Much to Lose  

There is a lot to miss out on for US firms in Iran. The country of 80 million people generates a $400 billion economy, boasts the world's fourth-largest oil reserves, the second-biggest stores of natural gas and has well-established manufacturing and agricultural industries.

While the Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has ruled out agreements with the US beyond the nuclear deal, the Iranian government has not wasted time in wooing the rest of the world.

At a business forum staged by Iran in Vienna a little more than a week after the July 14 nuclear deal was reached, Amir Hossein Zamaninia, an Iranian deputy oil minister, said his country hoped for foreign partnerships for oil and gas projects that alone were worth $185 billion.

Iranian officials also pitched the mining and financial sectors and Iran's automotive industry to raptly listening participants from Austria, Germany, Spain, Italy and elsewhere — more than 3,000 participants each paying a 1,800 euro registration fee.

Austrian statistics tell the larger European Union story of business opportunities to a major Middle East market shut off for nearly a decade to most outsiders due to sanctions. Austrian exports were valued at 400 million euros (nearly $440 million) in 2004, before the sanctions started to bite. Last year, they were a little more than half that. But tiny Austria's Chamber of Commerce hopes to break the 1 billion euro ($1.1 billion) mark over the next few years.

***EU Firms in Starting Blocks

In contrast to the United States, sanctions lifting by the European Union will free up most financial and business bans imposed on Iran for companies based in the 28-nation EU. Many of them already are in the starting blocks, along with their countries' governments.

Switzerland dispatched a business delegation to Iran at the end of April, three months before the deal was finalized. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius met top Iranian officials in Tehran July 29, including President Hassan Rouhani. He asked Rouhani to visit Paris in November and said a French economic delegation is slated to visit Iran soon. Italy's foreign and economic development ministers last month signed an agreement in Tehran to facilitate commercial relations.

Britain reopened its embassy in Tehran last month. Spain recently sent a trade delegation to Iran headed by its foreign minister, while German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier plans in October to follow up on a July trip to Tehran by Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel.

Russia, which already has the inside track in supplying Iran with nuclear technology, is also resurrecting its lucrative arms-trade. In Moscow last month, Iranian Vice President Sorena Sattari said Tehran is in "active talks" with Russia to buy at least two types of military jets. Russian state news agencies meanwhile reported that Russia and Iran had signed a memorandum on previous plans to sell an S-300 air-defense system to Iran.

But US firms will remain on the outside for some time to come.