US President Trump has warned countries and companies against doing business with Iran. Although international support for the nuclear deal remains, Iran faces stark consequences after new US sanctions kick in.
On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump pressured members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) to work with Washington on supporting a new round of US sanctions on Tehran that are set to take effect on November 4.
"I ask all members of the Security Council to work with the United States to ensure the Iranian regime changes its behavior and never acquires a nuclear bomb," Trump said, while adding that the "regime in Tehran" is the "world's leading sponsor of terror."
Despite Trump's threat that "any individual or entity who fails to comply with these sanctions will face severe consequences," other UNSC members continue to support the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for it not developing nuclear weapons. The US backed out of the deal in May, which caused alarm among its European allies.
French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May both defended the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the best way of keeping Tehran away from nuclear weapons. Russia and China also strongly back the deal.
A false victory?
Although the Security Council session, which Trump chaired, gave signatories to the nuclear deal a chance to express their support and reject Trump's call for new sanctions on Iran, Tehran's apparent political gain can hardly be seen as a victory with effective consequences.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani welcomed the Security Council's response to Trump and the country's foreign minister tweeted that the US "abused" the UNSC only to find itself "further isolated" on the international stage. "When will it learn its lesson?" the tweet read.
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But despite European political support to keep the deal alive and encourage international companies to continue doing business with Iran, many large firms have already ceased operations.
Total, Lukoil, Maersk, Reliance, Dover, Mercedes Benz, VW, Peugeot, Honeywell, Boeing, General Electric and Siemens are some of the major international companies that have left Iran.
Political gains and empty pockets
In Iran, the impact of sanctions is visible in a currency crisis, closed-down factories, rising prices and scarcity of basic goods. Additionally, the country has been experiencing constant political turmoil since January.
Public dissatisfaction has increased considerably and trust in the state is at its lowest level, mainly due to unbridled corruption and government inefficiency. Iran desperately needs foreign investment rather than imported commodities. The country also faces a serious banking problem.
Tehran has asked the EU to find a solution to keep the nuclear deal alive. However, it seems that apart from their willingness, Europe's leaders do not have the means to persuade big companies and banks to return or stay in Iran.
The remaining signatories to the deal - Germany, France, the United Kingdom, China and Russia - announced that they would set up an alternative payment system, known as a "Special Purpose Vehicle" (SPV) to exchange Iranian oil for European goods and bypass US sanctions.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the move as "one of the most counterproductive measures imaginable for regional and global peace and security."
The White House has assured that these evasive actions will not decrease the impact of sanctions and that Iran will not have a choice other than returning to the negotiating table for a new deal. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has forbidden any negotiations with the US.
Although the US and EU disagree on dismantling the nuclear deal, the EU does want Iran to change its regional policies and stop its ballistic missile program. In other words, the EU, like the US, wants to negotiate on other topics going beyond Iran's nuclear activities.
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In this context, a political victory for Iran at the Security Council is not enough to change facts on the ground and affect people's daily lives.
Washington's allies, along with China, Russia and the majority of Security Council members, may have rejected Trump's call for sanctions, but in reality, companies, banks and investors do not show any sort of interest in going back to Iran. It seems that the Islamic republic's leadership will not get what they want and need most.