For a flavor of how robust trade has continued to be, see the following links:
There is a lot more, but one can’t spend all day on web searches and link pasting.
Of course, some foreign nations’ trade decisions have been made easier by the Obama administration’s policy of indefinitely extending exemptions for them from U.S. retaliation if they bust the sanctions. As this NPR piece outlines, banks in Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Taiwan are being exempted from U.S. penalties for prohibited financial dealings with Iran. No surprise, unfortunately, that Turkey has been a profitable avenue for financial sanctions-busting in particular (and continues to be one by exporting gold to Iran in exchange for natural gas). Iran has also been hiding oil off the east coast of Malaysia, while Sri Lanka is side-stepping sanctions with some fancy accounting that basically amounts to barter with Iran. So it’s not as if the exempted nations are getting their waivers for good behavior.
If you see these as holes in the sanctions big enough to drive a truck through, your powers of deduction are functioning as intended. These are the highly breachable sanctions which the election of Rohani is likely to roll back. Sanctions by themselves typically become simply a feature of the economic landscape and are quickly worked around by the ingenious human mind; they were never likely to put a serious dent in Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. But with Rohani’s ascent, we can expect to go from a set of strangely and intermittently administered sanctions to what will be, in effect, a get-out-of-jail-free card for Iran.
A similar dynamic will probably prevail in nuclear negotiations. Iran will be able to profit from the mere chimera of prospective reform, without actually demonstrating any. With Ahmadinejad gone, we face the real prospect of the same old intransigent, radical, anti-non-proliferation positions being relabeled “moderate” by the media and Western politicians – just because Rohani, and not Ahmadinejad, has become their public face.
Transforming the security narrative
But the larger dynamic will be the opportunity Rohani’s putative moderation will create for the world to find a post-Pax Americana footing. If Angela Merkel, for example, says of Rohani that she can do business with him, it will not be in the context of an unbreakable security alliance with the United States that she says it. Rather, it will be a step outside the NATO box, and Germany and much of Europe will see it in its proper terms: as Germany pursuing the policy of a de facto European hegemon in seeking to shape and engage with the East. It has been about a century since the European powers last acted on this basis in a non-ideological manner, and in conditions in which no ideological conflict dictated alliances.
Were an un-clubbable Iranian “conservative” to be in the hopper behind Ahmadinejad, the international community would not reorient itself as I suggest here. The overarching narrative about Iran and everyone else would remain the same. But whether it should or not, the election of Rohani is virtually certain to mean that it will change.
Given the nature of the American administration in office today, this may not, on balance, be a bad thing. Obama’s actions in accordance with the “radical-Iran” narrative have been inconsistent and perfunctory at best. They have above all been ineffective. Going along with U.S. policy really isn’t doing anyone any good.
The pious “reformist” myth growing about Rohani offers the world an opportunity to move on from the narrative. Unimpressive as they too often are, the nations of Western Europe may yet do no worse than Obama has, in engaging Iran. One thing this prospect has in its favor is competition. Britain, France, and Germany are by no means a foreign policy bloc today, and nations like Poland, the Netherlands, and Italy have the economic strength and geographic assets to act as counterweights and spoilers, at least in concert with allies of convenience (e.g., with one of the larger Western European nations, or with powers like India, Saudi Arabia, and Azerbaijan). Russia and China engage separately, and for their separate reasons, as do regional giants like Japan and Brazil. No one on the scene can organize everyone else according to his own vision. The feeding frenzy to engage with Iran will be competitive, and it will reverberate across the region and even around the world.