To little fanfare Iranian President Rouhani has visited Switzerland and Austria as he seeks to shore up the 2015 nuclear deal which is today endangered by the American pullout and the imminent imposition of sanctions on the Islamic republic that begin on 6th August. Much is in the balance. Iran has said that it will resume nuclear activities of a civilian nature and leave the accord unless it gets guarantees from France, Germany and the UK that will ensure the flow of inward investment and trade. Friday is going to be crunch-day when all parties to the agreement, excluding the Americans, are going to meet in Vienna to debate an economic package crafted by the Europeans in order to counter the effects of the US withdrawal.
Whatever comes out of the moot needs to go beyond tepid platitudes. European companies are already wary of running afoul of US sanctions and the potential is there for things to get very messy indeed as President Trump appears bent on having a trade war somewhere in the world. The Swiss represent American interests in Iran in the absence of formal diplomatic ties, and the Austrians hold the rotating European Presidency — in the light of which the Rouhani visit attracts considerable gravitas.
Iran is in the sights of countries other than the US, with Saudi Arabia and Iran both engaged in a proxy war in Yemen that is fomenting the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, and Iran stirs assorted pots in Syria as well. There is trouble on the domestic front for Rouhani and street protests, rare events in a tightly-controlled country, have been widespread as the Iranian economy stumbles along. Iran shares a border with Pakistan that abuts Balochistan, and the insurgency there spills over both sides of the border. It is also an important trading partner and a future source of energy, and Pakistan has to perform a delicate balancing act ensuring that it holds the Saudis at a discreet arm’s length while cultivating Iran. Any destabilisation of Iran or even the collapse of the regime will go badly for Pakistan. Pandora’s Box rarely looked more menacing.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 5th, 2018.