Iran torn between historic Europe visit and Syria talks
By : Camelia Entekhabi-Fard
It was supposed to be “historic, charming” and was “highly anticipated” – President Hassan Rowhani’s official state visit to Europe to normalize Iran’s relations with the West after many years of turbulence and tension.
Rowhani had been scheduled to visit Italy and then France to meet with officials and business owners. Through the visit, Iranians were eager to encourage investors to visit Iran and also develop business opportunities with West.
But the horrific Paris attacks have, of course, erased this momentum. Happening just a day before Rowhani was to leave Tehran for Italy, the chaotic situation in France made the historic trip impossible.
It was going to be the first time since 1999 that an Iranian president was to visit France, a sign of warming relations since the nuclear deal was struck.
Syria talks in Vienna are an opportune time to show that Iran is able to work with other nations politically, not just economically, for a common cause
Since August, Iranian officials have met with delegations from at least eight European countries and are scheduled to hold more trade meetings this month with France, Sweden, Italy, and Germany. Most recently, a German delegation traveled to Iran to discuss increasing bilateral trade and potential electricity, energy, and manufacturing projects.
These European visits to Iran are meant to test the waters to gauge whether Iran has a strong enough political and economic environment.
European companies’ willingness to invest in Iran will continue to depend on Tehran’s implementation of the nuclear deal and its ability to demonstrate to the world that it can be relied on as a stable economic partner.
Domestic reforms and a willingness to find political solutions to regional conflicts will also be important steps towards building credibility with the global business community, which will be of long-term benefit to the Iranian people.
Rowhani’s recent economic stimulus plan shows that he is trying to keep public expectations in check. But by promoting this stimulus, the Iranian government recognizes that the benefits of sanctions relief won’t be instantaneous even if this frustrates public expectations in the short term.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ruled out negotiations with the U.S. on anything beyond the nuclear issue, particularly shunning discussions on the Syria situation.
But the Syria talks in Vienna are an opportune time to show that Iran is able to work with other nations politically, not just economically, for a common cause.
Upon the cancellation of Rowhani’s trip to Europe, foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif went to Vienna to join his counterparts at the Syria talks.
Clearly the importance of the Syria crisis talks has been noticed by Iranian officials. And a peaceful Syria will now be of benefit to Iran as it opens up to Europe and attempts lure foreign investors to the Middle East.
While the Syria talks are supposed to resume within a month and perhaps in Paris, there is no indication Rowhani’s trip to Europe will be rescheduled in the near future.
While Syria and the crises in the region are prioritized by world powers, the implementation of Iran’s nuclear accord still is what is mostly required from Iran.
Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth – A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai. She can be found on Twitter: @CameliaFard
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