Obama’s Snap-Back Fantasy

Big business lines up to get into Iran after sanctions go away.

By WSJ Editorial Board

Wall Street Journal

June 16, 2015


President Barack Obama likes to say that sanctions on Iran can be “snapped back” into place should Tehran violate any nuclear deal it might sign. Mark that down as another Administration fantasy.

The latest evidence of growing business interest in the Islamic Republic came at this year’s World National Oil Companies Congress, held in London, where a full day of briefings on Monday was devoted to exploring energy-industry opportunities after sanctions vanish. Chevron, Siemens, Australia’s Woodside Energy and Singapore’s Yug-Neftegaz were among the industry players with delegates at the Iran briefings.

“We think that the enthusiasm is there,” Elham Hassanzadeh, the main workshop presenter, said in an interview with us. “And the fact that the whole sanctions structure is weakened is true, because everybody’s just ready that once it really crumbles to go back to the country and put down the money.”

Ms. Hassanzadeh is the managing director of Energy Pioneers, a consultancy with offices in Oxford and Tehran. She said her Iranian-government contacts have received “a great deal of interest” from Western businesses and cited the “sheer volume of companies talking” to the Iranians. “It’s more like flirting. So it’s good. They’re getting to know each other.”

The flirtation began almost immediately after the interim nuclear agreement was signed in Geneva in November 2013. Two months later, the European Union suspended its ban on insuring shipments of Iranian oil. Around the same time executives from Shell, Italy’s Eni and Austria’s OMV, among other European energy giants, met with Iran’s oil minister in Vienna.

Interest goes beyond the energy industry. Representatives from Airbus, Peugeot Citroën, Société Générale and BNP Paribas visited Iran in February 2014. London hosted the first Europe-Iran Forum last October, allowing major Western businesses—among them the global law firm Dentons Europe, management-consultancy FTI, PR firm WPP, Sotheby’s and the South African telecom MTN—to meet potential post-sanctions partners.

The Iranians and their Western business suitors have also developed a trade-promotion infrastructure. The British-Iranian Chamber of Commerce is headed by Lord Lamont of Lerwick, a Tory life peer and Chancellor in the John Major government who is an avid proponent of diplomatic rapprochement.

Mr. Obama may imagine that all this economic activity will come to a halt at the first sign that Iran is violating a nuclear deal. The business community is clearly betting otherwise.