Sanctions are the new way of war
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OPINION: Iran’s new trajectory is well underway, leaving the West with significantly reduced leverage in future relations, writes Shannon Ebrahim.
The tone of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in his address at the opening of the UN General Assembly indicates a clear shift in the country’s foreign policy, even if its strategic direction remains the same.
Raisi delivered one of the most hostile denunciations of the United States in the UNGA, saying: “Sanctions are the US’s new way of war with the nations of the world.” Raisi also criticised America’s policies on Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
The Iranian objective seems to be to depict American power in the world as irrelevant. Iran’s tone toward the West has already hardened under Raisi, but his foreign policy team is likely to be guided by a combination of realism and pragmatism.
While Iran will push the US to lift sanctions and rejoin the JCPOA, it no longer sees its salvation as dependent on the lifting of sanctions but rather on its ability to forge strong trade relations with neighbours in the region and economic powerhouses in the east. The priority will be to make the sanctions ineffective more than getting them lifted.
Raisi will expand the policy of “a resistance economy” - a strategy aimed at reducing Iran’s vulnerability to external sanctions. He has vowed to make “economic diplomacy” a top priority with the goal of increasing Iran’s exports of value-added commodities such as gasoline, engine oil, tar and other products that are in high demand and difficult to sanction.
Raisi has repeatedly pointed to Iran’s 15 neighbours and their market of 500 million people with which Iran should promote trade, and of which Iran currently only has a tiny share.
Raisi’s appointment of Hossein Amir Abdollahian as the new foreign minister on August 11th signalled that the orientation of Iran’s foreign policy would be to look eastwards. Amir-Abdollahian has long been a proponent of the Negah Beh Sharq (Look East) foreign policy orientation, preferring a policy focused on China rather than the US and Europe.
Amir-Abdollahian was disillusioned with the West during the course of Iran’s negotiations over the nuclear deal and witnessed how the Europeans would pretend to support the lifting of sanctions, but in reality, would delay and postpone discussions on it.
Raisi and his allies saw how the Rouhani administration looked to the West to solve Iran’s economic problems and achieve economic growth, but instead got “broken promises” and “unprecedented sanctions.”
Amir-Abdollahian articulated his position in a statement he made to Iranian state television in February this year when he said: “One has to keep in mind that we are located in Asia. Experts believe that the coming decades belong to Asia and emerging powers, especially economic powers, have created this trait that we must redefine our relations with influential countries.
“In western Asia, we seek to institutionalise the achievements of the ‘Axis of Resistance’ and, in the East, we seek to use the capacities of emerging economic powers to develop our economy and international trade.”
Amir-Abdollahian became the deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs from 2011-2016 and the adviser to the conservative speaker of parliament thereafter. He became known as the face of the “axis of resistance,” looking to boost Iran’s anti-US partners in the Middle East.
He had close relations with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, unlike his predecessor, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was distrusted and marginalised by the IRGC. Zarif was more comfortable dealing with the West, having earned degrees from prestigious American universities and spent decades representing Iran at the UN.
Amir-Abdollahian, on the other hand, became deputy foreign minister after completing his PhD dissertation on the failures of the US strategy in the Middle East post 9/11.
Amir-Abdollahian has wasted no time over the past six weeks in engaging constructively with key policy-makers from countries that Iran is seeking even closer ties within its neighbourhood – Pakistan, Iraq, Qatar, Kuwait and Syria. His first meeting as foreign minister was with his Pakistani counterpart who was visiting Iran, and both emphasised the need for the enhancement of bilateral ties on the political and economic fronts.
They praised the establishment of two new border posts and the holding of a joint economic commission and trade committee in the near future. Amir-Abdollahian underlined Iran’s readiness to meet Pakistan’s energy needs, especially in terms of natural gas, electricity and industrial products.
Amir-Abdollahian was strategic in making his first foreign visit to Iraq and met with Iraqi President Barham Salih. He reiterated Iran’s support for the independence, national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq. Both agreed on the necessity of expanding economic ties between the two countries.
Amir-Abdollahian then visited Syria and met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his counterpart Faisal Miqdad, praising Syria’s position as an effective member at the forefront of the resistance. Amir-Abdollahian also recently met with the Qatari Foreign Minister to discuss improving trade relations.
Iran’s new trajectory is well underway, leaving the West with significantly reduced leverage in future relations.
* Shannon Ebrahim is Independent Media’s Group Foreign Editor.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.