On December 2, 2016, the U.S. Congress approved a ten-year extension of the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA). The U.S. sanctions against Libya and Iran were approved for the first time in 1996 and would head towards expiry at the end of this year. However, it had been clear for weeks that bilateral relations between the two countries were at risk. The election of President-elect Donald Trump on November 8 had immediately made the fate of the nuclear agreement - which had been signed between the countries of the Security Council, plus Germany, with Iran in July 2015 in Vienna - unclear. The statements of the Republican electoral campaign and Trump’s first appointments ahead of his inauguration could really complicate the cancellation of international measures against Tehran. The Iranian authorities have reacted harshly to the decision of the U.S. Congress, after the vitriolic statements following the Republican leader’s repeated announcements that would put the Vienna agreement into question, despite the commitments made by the U.S. authorities. Therefore, in response to the imposition of new sanctions, Tehran immediately announced the launch of a plan for the production of nuclear maritime propellers and legal action against Washington for the failure to cancel the measures, as provided for by the Vienna agreement. The announcement was confirmed by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), which has already been accused by the International Atomic Energy Agency (AIEA) of having resumed the enrichment of uranium at levels higher than the limits provided for by the Vienna agreement, since last November.
The new trade agreements signed by Iran
In a letter by Hassan Rohani to chief negotiator and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, the Iranian President referred to ''delays in the implementation of the agreement on the nuclear issue'' and a ''blatant breach'' of the Vienna agreement in relation to the new sanctions approved by Washington. Therefore, the Iranian government continues to look towards Russia and Europe to balance the freeze in bilateral relations with the United States. The Iranian government has signed a $2.2 billion memorandum of understanding with Russian company Gazprom. Last week, the Iranian authorities signed another agreement with Royal Dutch Shell for the development of two major oil fields in the country: South Azadegan and Yadavaran. Moreover, Iranian airline Iran Air signed an agreement with U.S. company Boeing for the purchase of 80 passenger aircraft for $16.6 billion. It is one of the most important trade agreements signed with the United States in recent years. Dozens of agreements between Iran and countries of the European Union (especially Italy, France and Germany), have been signed in recent months following the first cancellation of sanctions, approved by some European banks but not yet by the main U.S. banks.
The Iranian government continues to look in the direction of Russia and Europe to balance the freeze in bilateral relations with the United States
Tehran and the Syrian crisis
Iran’s role in the main regional conflicts, especially in Syria, is becoming increasingly important. Therefore, Russia, Turkey and Iran have been accredited as the ''guarantors'' of the solution to the conflict in Syria following the meeting in Moscow between the foreign ministers of the three countries, which took place on December 20. In the joint statement announced at the end of the talks, the three ministers reiterated the ''importance of extending the ceasefire in Syria'', the need for ''free access to humanitarian aid and the movement of civilians in Syria''. The talks were preceded by the serious attack that killed the Russian ambassador in Ankara, Andrei Karlov. According to many analysts, it was a possible attempt to blow up the negotiating table on Syria and, more generally, to affect the rapprochement between Moscow and Ankara for managing the Syrian crisis. In particular, following the talks, Tehran confirmed its ''willingness to facilitate an agreement between the Syrian government and the opposition'', following the evacuation of East Aleppo, hit hard by Russian bombings in recent weeks. The three countries will meet again in Astana in the second half of January, before the next Geneva talks to be held on February 8, 2017 in Kazakhstan, to continue the talks that were started in Moscow. The confirmation of the U.S. sanctions against Tehran opened a new tense season between Washington and Tehran after the rapprochement between the two countries desired by Barack Obama’s outgoing administration. The axis between Moscow and Tehran, however, makes Iran’s role in the solution of the main local crises essential, starting with the war in Syria. Tehran, along with Ankara and Moscow, has become a guarantor of the ceasefire reached in Aleppo. However, the huge trade agreements signed so far by the U.S. with Iran could be challenged by the possible political strengthening of the ultra-conservatives in the country, along with the new course in foreign policy, promised by Trump’s administration, and by the failure to lift the international sanctions.
In response to the imposition of the new sanctions, Tehran immediately announced the launch of a plan for the production of nuclear maritime propellers and legal action against Washington