On the other hand, the Rouhani administration is doing its best to discredit the Trump administrationʹs confrontational policy. They want to drive a wedge between the USA and the EU in regard to how to interact with the Islamic Republic. They got a boost on 3 October, when the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered the USA to ensure that sanctions against Iran do not affect humanitarian aid or the safety of civil aviation. Although unenforceable and rejected by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the decision by the United Nations court encouraged the Iranian leadership to stay defiant.

Diplomatic overtures eclipsed by hardline interests and economic woes

Some hardliners want to do more. They are planning a revival of Iranʹs "look East" policy that was pursued in the latter part of Mahmoud Ahmadinejadʹs presidency (2005 to 2013). Now as then, the idea is to co-operate with Russia and China in order to reduce the economic impact of western hostility. To Tehranʹs disappointment, however, neither Russia nor China have shown willing to sacrifice geo-strategic advantages in order to protect Iran from western pressure.

Indeed, both powers tend to use Tehran as a bargaining chip in international affairs. Like the E3, however, they insist on the nuclear deal staying in force. Apart from that, Iran looks increasingly isolated.

To maintain trading relations, moreover, the E3 want Tehran to implement the requirements of the multilateral Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Among other things, that means passing laws against money laundering, the financing of terrorism and transnational organised crime. According to Majid Reza Hariri, a member of Iran-China chamber of commerce, most countries now share the E3ʹs stance.

Accordingly, President Rouhani wants the Iranian parliament to pass bills in order to meet FATF conditions, but powerful hardliners are obstructing their passage. They say the bills would infringe on Iranʹs national sovereignty and hinder its support for such Islamist groups as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories. Iranʹs Revolutionary Guards are involved in Syriaʹs civil war and the regime is waging a proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

So far, when it comes to protecting the nuclear deal, E3 action on establishing the special trading vehicle has been valuable in diplomatic but not economic terms. Iranʹs economy is deteriorating daily. No doubt, hardliners are eager to restart the nuclear weapons programme – especially because they see that their power is more at risk today than at any time since the revolution 40 years ago. Rouhani may soon prove either unable or unwilling to prevent new nuclear activity – and the consequence could be a devastating war. It would ravage the entire Middle East and, most likely, world regions beyond it.

Maysam Behravesh

© D+C | Development & Cooperation 2019

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