TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) - British Prime Minister Theresa May was the last of the European leaders, who affirmed commitment to the Iranian nuclear deal this week.
“We must stand firm in our support for the … deal,” she told reporters in the Jordanian capital Amman on Thursday on the last leg of her Middle East tour that had already taken her to Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
Trump set off alarm bells around the world when he refused to certify the Iran deal in October, ordering Congress to impose new, illegal sanctions on Iran, and warning that he might cancel the accord outright when the issue rolls around again in January.
Those threats have been scaring investors but the Europeans are working with their Iranian peers to find creative ways in order to keep trade links in place.
Earlier this week, Iranian officials traveled to Rome where they discussed the path forward in commercial ties, without factoring the United States in the business.
Italian investors and economic officials attend an Iran-Italy investment forum in Rome, Nov. 27, 2017.
“The train is going forward. The world is a lot greater than the United States,” Fereidun Haghbin, director general of economic affairs at Iran’s foreign ministry, was quoted to have told the meeting.
Risk worth taking
Even the venue of the meeting carried a message. Italy is Iran’s biggest European trade partner, with the two countries raising trade to over 2 billion euros last year.
According to figures by Italy's ministry of foreign affairs, Italian exports to Iran rose to 1.55 billion euros last year which compared with 1.15 billion euros in 2014, the last full year when sanctions against Tehran went into effect.
Imports from Iran increased more dramatically over the period, jumping from 440 million euros to 1.05 billion euros, an increase of nearly 140% in two years.
Nevertheless, the Iranians are not content and the country’s officials want the Europeans to goad their firms and banks into action in dealing with the Islamic Republic.
Many European companies have adopted a wait-and-see approach toward trade engagement with Iran amid US fears but EU officials agree that it is time to move forward no matter what.
"There is a risk for Italy and other European Union states to chart a course on Iran that departs from that of the US," Xinhua quoted Riccardo Alcaro, head of the Global Actors Program at Italy's Institute of International Affairs, as saying at the end of talks with the Iranian officials.
"But it's a calculated risk, one that Italy and others believe is worth taking because of domestic interests and more stability in the region," he said.
Representatives of Tehran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture meet with their counterparts during the 2nd Iran-Italy business forum in Rome.
Iran, with a population of more than 80 million, is being billed as one of the countries with a potential to become an economic powerhouse.
"I think Italy and other European states recognize that Iran is now an increasingly powerful, stable, and fully functioning country they should engage with," Alcaro said.
Italian companies have undertaken big ticket investment plans in Iran. In July, Iran’s state railway company and its Italian counterpart signed a deal worth 1.2 billion euros to build a high-speed rail line between the Iranian cities of Arak and Qom.
Ferrovie dello Stato is separately a consultant in the building of a high-speed rail line between Tehran to Isfahan via Qom. However, they are struggling to find banks willing to fund the projects.
Benedetto Della Vedova, Italian undersecretary of state for foreign affairs and international cooperation, said his country “will make every effort within the framework of the Iran nuclear deal to remove financial issues for Italian companies interested in investing in Iran."
Former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi promised a 4 billion-euro credit line to fund projects in Iran when he visited the country with a delegation of some 60 business leaders in April 2016.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani and former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi attend a signing ceremony in Rome, January 25, 2016.
Asians taking over
With the Europeans dragging their feet, Chinese and other Asian companies have committed billions of dollars to a number of projects in Iran.
China’s state-owned investment arm CITIC Group signed an agreement in September to provide Iran a credit line of $10 billion for its infrastructure projects. China Development Bank is considering lending $15 billion more.
In August, South Korea’s Eximbank signed another agreement to provide an 8 billion euro ($9.4 billion) loan to finance various projects by Korean companies in Iran.
According to Valerio de Molli, head of Italian think tank European House Ambrosetti, China now accounts for more than double the EU’s share of Iran’s total trade.
“The time to act is now, otherwise opportunities nurtured so far will be lost,” Reuters quoted him as saying.