By Mohammad Mazhari

It is in China’s long-term interest to confront U.S. sanctions: GWU professor

July 3, 2021 - 17:47
Professor Hossein Askari says Iran could be a potential game-changer if it adopts and pursues sound policies

TEHRAN – A professor from the George Washington University says that it is in China’s long-term interest to blunt U.S. sanctions, which have become a weapon in its foreign policy.

Noting that “America’s sanction policy has become a potent weapon in its foreign policy arsenal,” Hossein Askari tells the Tehran Times that “China, and indeed other American adversaries such as Russia, should try to blunt this almost unique policy.”

Askari is of the opinion that if China fully embraces Iran, the U.S. will think more seriously about imposing secondary sanctions on Chinese companies, entities and Chinese officials as this would truly harm the U.S. consumer and corporations.

“(However,) the sooner China does this, it is better for China. An alliance with Iran affords China its best access to the Middle East (West Asia) and beyond,” according to the expert in international business.

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: How do you see the fate of the Vienna talks in light of Iran-U.S. escalation in Iraq and Syria and strictness by both countries in the negotiations?

A: I don’t think that the escalation of hostilities in Iraq and Syria will have much of an impact on the outcome of the talks. Both sides realize that their suspicions and hostilities go much deeper than a few drone attacks or ensuing retaliations. It all depends how badly each side wants to make a deal. For Iran it is all about economic respite; an economic boost, no matter how temporary. Iran has boxed itself into the corner through years of mismanagement, uncontrolled corruption and unwillingness to begin a program of reforms that could set the stage for a real economic resurgence and prosperity. And as time goes by, the adoption of reforms and its success becomes ever more difficult. So given the dire state of the economy, my guess is that Iran truly wants a deal, no matter how short term and temporary. Biden, on the other hand, wants a deal for his own very different reasons. The JCPOA was Obama’s, and in part Biden’s as his vice-president, signature foreign policy achievement. Biden wants to revive it and in the hope that it may lead to wider range of cooperation, especially when it comes to Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria. But he cannot be seen as giving Iran too much as this would erode his support in the U.S. Congress when it comes to getting his domestic agenda passed into law.

“If Iran adopts rational, consistent and well-conceived policies even for 10 to 15 years, it could be well on the road to sustained prosperity.”

Q: How do you assess Raisi's election? Do you predict any fundamental change in Iran's approach towards the region and the Western powers?

A: I don’t see much that will change. President Rouhani followed Supreme Leader’s guidance as will President Raisi. Moreover, President Raisi has been a close disciple of the Supreme Leader, has a similar ideology and is on the same page. Differences with Western powers all lead to the United States. Will Raisi be different than Rouhani? Maybe on the edges but not at the core. Raisi may use harsher language in his dealings with the U.S. and European allies but no big change unless there is a sea change in U.S. policies towards the Middle East (West Asia) region. 
As for relations with countries in the region, things are more complicated. There are ethnic and sectarian differences and a long history of disputes and hostilities. Iran cannot abandon its allies in the region and then be faced with no allies and a more demanding U.S. At the same time, rapprochement with Arab countries will be dictated by their relations with the U.S. Frankly, Iran’s foreign policies, whether you like them or not, are more stable than those of the U.S. Just think how Trump upended everything. Trump or a Trump look-alike could do the same again. 

Q: How can Iran capitalize on its ties with neighbors to counter U.S. sanctions?

A: Absolutely no viable option. All the countries of the Persian Gulf, except Iraq, will do nothing without U.S. blessing. I would also add Jordan to the list of Persian Gulf countries to follow the U.S. line. If the U.S. wants to continue squeezing Iran, they will all tow the U.S. line. What about others? Syria, Yemen and Lebanon are in dire economic straits themselves. They can do little to boost Iran’s economy. Pakistan and Afghanistan present a number of issues as well. Pakistan is warming up to the U.S., is still very dependent on Saudi Arabia and not in a strong economic position itself. Afghanistan is in terrible economic shape and is likely to enter a period of heightened internal strife, if not a real civil war. This leaves Iraq. Iran must tread carefully when it comes to Iraq. Iran must not overplay its hand. It must not be perceived as meddling in Iraq’s internal affairs. If Iran can do that, then I believe strong economic and political benefits could accrue to Iran. In oil policy. In trade with the rest of the world. In leverage dealing with the U.S. and Europeans. Iran needs a seasoned economist and Arab hand to coordinate Iran’s relations with Iraq. This must go far beyond the security and military alliances currently in place. 

“Iran needs sanctions relief but it must be accompanied with sound economic policies that are maintained from one Iranian presidency to the next.”

Q: How do you see the 25-year Iran-China partnership? Can it prove a game-changer?

A: Iran had little choice but to sign up with China. China is equal to the U.S. It can give Iran most Iran needs—investment, free trade and access to the international payments system—if China is willing to fully embrace Iran. If China does this, I believe that the U.S. will think long and hard about imposing secondary sanctions on Chinese companies, entities and Chinese officials as this would truly harm the U.S. consumer and corporations. I think it would be in China’s long-term political and economic interest do so as well. America’s sanction policy has become a potent weapon in its foreign policy arsenal. It is a weapon that has given it an edge beyond its military power. China, and indeed other American adversaries such as Russia, should try to blunt this almost unique policy. The sooner China does this, it is better for China. Moreover, an alliance with Iran affords China its best access to the Middle East (West Asia) and beyond.
However, please note that Iran is not in a strong bargaining position. It has to take much of what China offers, that is making concessions and signing onto to One Belt One Road initiative. But it is only for 25 years. And if Iran adopts rational, consistent and well-conceived policies even for 10 to 15 years, it could be well on the road to sustained prosperity. But will Iran do what it needs?
So, yes, it could be a potential game-changer if Iran adopts and pursues sound policies. This has been, and always will be, the key. 

Q: What will be Raisi's main economic challenges?

A: I don’t envy President Raisi. He has monumental economic challenges. He has to find the ways and means to come up with much higher and sustained economic growth. He needs this to provide good jobs to provide food, shelter, healthcare and good educational opportunities. All this is for the very short run. But for the medium and longer run, he needs economic prosperity and better opportunities to deter Iran’s talented university graduates from emigrating. 
Most of these will not come to fruition if the focus is only on getting a quick injection of funds from Iran’s frozen assets and higher oil revenues to give brief economic relief to the majority of Iranians. Yes, Iran needs sanctions relief but it must be accompanied with sound economic policies that are maintained from one Iranian presidency to the next.


 


 

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