Braving sanctions
As US measures send Iranian currency into a tailspin, the country decides to dig in
Published: Mar 18, 2019 07:33 PM

A general view of a street in Tehran, Iran Photo: Yu Jincui/GT

Since the US withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in may 2018, the Iranian currency has lost nearly 75 percent of its value in a year, and it takes more than 130,000 rials to get one greenback. 

Ask Hussein, a 72-year-old retired technician of Iran Air, who in an apt metaphor compares his country's depreciating currency to an airplane in free-fall before a crash. "It is going down like a crashing aircraft," he told the Global Times. 

Fall in the value of the currency has led to hyperinflation and soaring prices of imported goods. Many middle-class families like Hussein's have been hit hard. He complained about the worsening living standard, with meat served only once every day. Foreign holidays are a far cry, they cannot even visit other countries because of the depreciating currency.

Iran has faced mounting economic woes since US President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled Washington out of a 2015 nuclear accord between Tehran and world powers. At the time when the historic nuclear accord was inked, many Iranians took to the streets, dancing to celebrate the deal they hoped would end decades of the country's economic sanctions and international isolation. However, their dreams were smashed.  

US pressure

The US slapped fresh sanctions on Iran last November. Over the past few months, under the "toughest ever" US sanctions regime, Washington has restricted Iran's oil exports by seeking to block dealings with Iranian banks as well as its shipping and aviation sectors. The Trump administration has also pressured foreign governments and companies to wind down their business with Iran, leading to many international corporations withdrawing from the Iranian market. 

On December 1, 2018, Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese technology giant Huawei, was arrested in Canada, at the request of the US, for allegedly violating US sanctions on Iran. She is now out on bail and has filed lawsuits against Canada and the US. The Meng case has stirred fear among Chinese enterprises in Iran as they worry about being targeted by Washington for doing business in the Islamic Republic. A manager of a Chinese-invested program in Iran, who requested anonymity, told the Global Times that because of US surveillance on their program in Iran, all documents have to be encrypted and important messages delivered face-to-face.

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Bahram Ghasemi, in an exclusive interview with the Global Times, said that Iran has been aware of the tremendous pressure Chinese companies have been facing in continuing cooperation with Iran under US sanctions. "The US created the problem. It's all because of US unilateralism. It unilaterally quit the nuclear deal and re-imposed sanctions on Iran," Ghasemi said. 

As countries were doing normal business with each other, the US abruptly intervened to tell you what to do and what not, this shouldn't be accepted, Seyed Zia Hashemi, managing director of the Islamic Republic News Agency, told the Global Times. All countries should adopt independent policies and stand up against Washington to defy US unilateralism, Hashemi added. 

Strong resistance

In the face of tough US sanctions, Iran has refused to yield to formidable US pressure. 

Ghasemi said Iran is determined not to negotiate with the US, particularly the Trump administration, over a new nuclear deal. "We don't trust the US any more. Who can guarantee it won't withdraw from the new deal again?" the spokesman said. His remarks are consistent with a speech made by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in the city of Lahijan, which was broadcast live on state television on March 6. The leader accused the US of scheming to use economic pressure to overthrow the regime and ruled out the possibility of talks with Washington.

"We have witnessed what wrong US policies brought to the Middle East in countries like Iraq and Syria. We have no choice but to oppose US unilateralism in order to safeguard our sovereignty and territorial integrity," Ghasemi emphasized. 

The spokesman acknowledged the impact US sanctions are having on the Iranian economy and the economic difficulties the Iranian people will face, but said Iran has the support of the people to overcome the crisis, as Iranians "value dignity, sovereignty and territorial integrity very much." 

Mohammad Marandi, a professor at the University of Tehran, told the Global Times that an overwhelming majority of Iranians support the country's foreign policy, citing a poll conducted by the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland in July 2018. According to the poll, a growing majority supports a tough stance against the US including retaliating against Washington if it abrogates the Iran deal and resisting renegotiations on the nuclear deal with the Trump administration. 

The professor said that with an educated society and a large number of Iranians taking part in the elections, Iran is able to maintain political stability and despite staring at tough times ahead, Iran will finally overcome economic woes with the economy growing again. The fact is that 40 years of sanctions didn't make Tehran fall, nor will it in the future, he said, saying since he was a teenager, people have been asking whether Iran would survive.

Hashemi told the Global Times that the past four decades have seen Iran under US sanctions acquire abundant experience in dealing with them. "Iran has strived and will continue to spur domestic production and manufacturing to tackle US pressures," he said, adding that sanctions in the long run will stimulate the development of Iran's domestic enterprises. 

A Chinese analyst who has lived in Iran for years told the Global Times that as a country which is endowed with natural resources, Iran could take care of itself without outside assistance. Iran has long reached its goal of self-sufficiency in agricultural and petroleum production, which is one of the key factors bolstering the country's resistance against the US.   

China's expected role

China reaffirmed to continue to safeguard and implement the Iran deal with counterparts from Russia, France, Britain, Germany and the EU after the US quit the agreement. During the visit of a delegation headed by Iran's parliament speaker Ali Larijani to Beijing in February, China and Iran vowed to develop the comprehensive strategic partnership and deepen strategic trust. 

Ghasemi said it is "a step forward" that China, Russia and the EU stand up to US unilateralism, all supporting to preserve the Iran nuclear deal. Talking about Iran-China relations, he said there are no obstacles in the way of developing bilateral relations, however, there are complaints from inside Iran that relations are not developing as quickly as expected. 

Nonetheless, professor Marandi said that Iran doesn't need China to fight against the US. "Ignore the US and be independent to abide by the Iran nuclear deal" is what Iran expects China to do, he said.
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