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Iran Pundits Criticize Plans To Rely On East To Rescue Economy

International relations analyst Ali Bigdeli and business leader Sharif Nezam-Mafi in Iran have criticized foreign minister-designate Hossein Amir-Abdollahian's plans for relying on trade with the Asia as a solution to the country’s current economic hardship.

Defending his plans in parliament, Amir-Abdollahian, who is known for his interest in economic ties with the East, said: "In West-Asia we are going to institutionalize the achievements of our resistance economy, and in East-Asia we are looking forward to interaction with emerging economic systems."

The policy of relying on Asia or the East, particularly China and Russia, was promulgated by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2018, with the catchphrase, “Looking East”. Since then, his hardliner followers have made it one of the centerpieces of a ‘revolutionary economy’.

Bigdeli said in an interview with Khabar Online website, "Looking East policy will not save us. Both China and Russia fear the impact of US sanctions. Our trade relations with east or West-Asia depends on our ability to work with international banks and the FATF (Financial Action Task Force). Both Russia and China also depend on the West in this regard."

Bigdeli added, "We need to maintain relations with all countries. Relying on one side and ignoring the other side cannot help us exit the current impasse. We could not rely exclusively on China and Russia to provide COVID-19 vaccines." China will not compromise its $750 billion market in the West to serve Iran's interests. Russia also needs the West, he said.

Bigdeli warned that statements like the ones made by Amir-Abdollahian might disappoint the West and harm negotiations. He made it clear that not only Russia and China, but also Japan and regional players such as Saudi Arabia will not engage with Iran without considering its impact on their ties with the United States.

He added that Iran's only way out of this situation is to reconsider its approach toward the West in the same way that it has softened its positions vis-à-vis the East. He said Iran has not yet approved the bills required by FATF to assure the world that it will not engage in money laundering or funding terror. Not approving those bills will limit Iran's banking relations and its strategic choices.

Asked how likely it is that Iran would return to the Vienna talks under Amir-Abdollahian as foreign minister, Bigdeli said it is not the foreign ministry that makes such decisions, however, there is every indication that Iran will join the talks.

Meanwhile, the chairman of Iran and Switzerland Joint Chamber of Commerce, Sharif Nezam-Mafi also reiterated in an interview with the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA), "Turning to Asia requires first solving the problems of FATF and JCPOA through diplomatic means.

He said although Iran's frustration is understandable, but they should know that even banks in China and South Korea fear the impact of US sanctions on their business.

Referring to trade ties with Asia and Iran's neighbors, Nezam-Mafi quoted former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping as saying: "It doesn't matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice." He added: “It does not matter whether Iran wants to engage in trade with Russia or Asia or its neighbors. First we have to see if such an approach to international trade works at all."

He stressed that Iran needs first to make sure that it can maintain banking relations at international level. If banks cannot work, “how are you going to maintain trade relations unless you are thinking about a very small economy.”

Nezam-Mafi said, "Currently, Iran's economy has become so small that we need to work really hard even if we wish to use Asia's potential. Europe certainly has a bigger investing potential than China and Asia, but when Europe no longer works with us, we cannot look at it as a potential partner."

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