A MAN holds a flag outside the Iranian consulate in central London..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last week, representatives from European and Iranian businesses, trade organizations and think tanks gathered in London to plan for the “post-sanctions” era. Specifically, the 1st Europe-Iran Forum was convened to facilitate European commercial participation in the Iranian marketplace.
Multi-nationals are no doubt eager to re-invest in the Iranian economy, and they are looking forward to the day when sanctions are permanently lifted and commerce may once again start to flow between Teheran and major European capitals. Yet it would be premature for European multi-nationals to begin planning for a post-sanctions Iran while significant European and US sanctions architecture remains in place and before a comprehensive and sustainable agreement that ensures the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program is reached.
The deadline for the extension to the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA ) originally struck in Geneva is set to expire on November 24. Many analysts, including members of the respective negotiating teams, remain pessimistic about the prospects of achieving a comprehensive nuclear deal by that date.
Moreover, Iran’s 35-year record of financing the world’s most lethal terrorist organizations remains outside the scope of these negotiations. These deadly organizations have targeted American and European citizens as well as Iranian dissidents seeking sanctuary in European cities.
Iran’s mischief goes beyond support for international terrorism.
The Islamic Republic has a notorious record on human rights. The most recent United Nations report on human rights abuses in Iran amounts to a grave indictment.
It shows that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, despite advertisements to the contrary, has done remarkably little to improve the dismal human rights situation in his country. Religious minorities continue to be persecuted, journalists continue to be imprisoned, and public executions remain on the rise. Clearly, the reputational risks for businesses active in an Iranian market dominated by regime-controlled entities will not dissipate even if some form of extension or resolution is achieved under the terms of the JPOA .
Such conduct by the Iranian regime must be firmly condemned by all those with a stake in the global order – public and private entities alike. There is something bizarre about a progressive capital city like London hosting an event promoting commerce with one of the world’s most illiberal regimes.
International business has both an interest and a duty to realize that the bottom line must extend beyond mere profit; the bottom line must also include a genuine commitment to a world order that allows free-market capitalism to flourish. The concept of “Principle before Profit” is a touchstone of that commitment.
The Iranian regime must experience ever-mounting pressure until it ceases its pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability. Indeed, such pressure is what brought the Iranian economy to the precipice and its delegates to the negotiating table in 2013. And an essential piece of this pressure was the decision of multi-national corporations to refrain from investing in Iran’s economy.
The Europe-Iran Forum sent the wrong signal and European businesses should not assume that they now have a “green light” to participate in the Iranian marketplace.
Sanctions remain in place – as do the very real reputational risks associated with transacting with one of the world’s most illiberal, extremist and violent regimes.The author is executive director of the non-partisan advocacy group, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI).