Tehran, Iran – This time last year, to buy one American dollar cost you 38,000 Iranian riyals. When President Hassan Rouhani‘s plane hit the tarmac in New York City on Sunday night, that number stood at a whopping 150,000.
While economic mismanagement by Iranian leaders has also contributed to the country’s current financial problems, the steep decline in the value of Iran’s currency in the last 12 months tells us something else.
Despite their best intentions and ongoing efforts to sustain benefits for Iran, remaining signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal – Europe, China and Russia – have been unable to do enough to stop Iran’s economy from suffering seemingly uncontrollable bleeding.
An attack on a veteran’s parade in the west of the country, that happened the day before Rouhani left to attend the United Nations General Assembly, is likely to put Iran’s message of self-determination with regards to national security matters centre stage.
But there is little doubt that delegates will use this week to re-energize their campaign to sustain the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and tell world leaders if things don’t get better soon, moral victories like the support of most of the international community, will stop being enough.
Preserving the deal still remains in everyone’s best interest. Germany, France, the UK, China and Russia say Iran is complying with the nuclear agreement and should continue to do so.
For Iran, the deal was more than a return to international markets, it was a chance to reinvent itself in an international context. Iran wants to show the world it is more than a country of clerics and conflicts. Leaders are eager to showcase their nation as one of diplomats and dealmakers; an international partner in the Middle East that can help create stability and promote progress. But to do so, Iran says it needs to be able to sell its oil.
American sanctions targeting Iranian oil sales kick in this November. While they are likely to pinch, the math remains on Iran’s side.
Right now, Iran loads oil onto tankers and sails into international waters to sell to countries such as China.
Hacks like that have allowed Iran to maintain a revenue stream from oil sales, which officials say has never fluctuated much. Market forces and demand for oil on the international market are likely to mean Iran will continue to find customers to buy its supply.
What this is really about is bypassing blocked access to international banking as well as legitimising the kinds of trade that Iran has carried out in the dark corners of alternative and black markets for years.
While the economic damage by the American exit from the nuclear deal and resulting sanctions has already been done, for Iran preserving the agreement is about the long game.
Iranian leaders are already talking about a post-Trump US government and what new leadership – not just in the White House but also in the House of Representatives and in the US Senate – might mean for their country’s long-term goals.
But in the short term, it means continuing to struggle under the heavy burden of American sanctions.