Notwithstanding Trump administration’s rigid approach vis-à-vis Iran, France, Germany and Britain provided medical assistance to Iran through the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), dubbed as INSTEX (Instrument in Support of trade exchanges), to circumvent US Sanctions on Iran.[RVListenButton]
The medical assistance reached Iran on March 31, 2020. This move sent a strong message, that even US allies were not in agreement with Trump Administration’s approach towards Iran – especially in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
More recently, Japan which itself is dealing with the pandemic, assured Iran that it would provide a flu drug and potential treatment for the coronavirus, Avigan, free of cost to Iran (Iran will be sending Avigan to over 40 countries). This decision is important for a number of reasons. First, by helping Iran, Tokyo has also not blindly toed Washington’s line, of which it is a close ally. Second, this will help Tokyo not just in the strategic sense, but also in enhancing its Soft Power.
In recent years, Japan has been enhancing economic linkages with developing countries, and through JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) which is the Japanese government’s overseas lending arm has been helping developing countries in Asia, Africa not just by providing assistance in infrastructural projects, but also capacity building. Japan’s engagement with the developing world has earned its goodwill, and this recent initiative will further bolster its image.
If one were to look at the Japan-Iran relationship, they have shared a reasonably good relationship even after the US withdrawal from the Iran-P5+1 nuclear agreement or JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan for Action). In Fact, Tokyo has been used by Washington to mediate and reduce tensions between Iran and the US. The Japanese PM, Shinzo Abe visited Iran in June 2019 for this purpose. Abe became the first Japanese Premier to visit Iran after the 1979 revolution, and the first G7 leader to visit Iran after the US withdrawal from JCPOA.
In September 2019 after drone strikes on Saudi Aramco oil processing facilities, not just the US, but EU countries, France, Germany and UK blamed Iran. Japan, however, stated that it was unfair to blame Tehran. Japanese Defence Minister, Taro Kono stated that there was no information which suggested that Iran was involved in the attack on oil facilities.
While, US may have not helped Iran in the coronavirus pandemic, and the Trump administration is likely to up the ante vis-à-vis Iran in the run up to the US Presidential elections (as is evident from statements made by US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo) Tehran needs to be pragmatic, since it is not just battling the coronavirus pandemic, but also has the additional challenge of an economy already in the doldrums.
The assistance provided to Iran by US allies like Japan, UK, Germany and France is significant, because these countries have an important role to play not just in ensuring that conflict between Tehran and Washington does not escalate, but also in providing assistance to Tehran in dealing with the pandemic.
In conclusion, while the Trump administration’s approach towards Iran is not helping, it is important that Germany, France, UK and Japan keep the channels of communication open with Tehran, so that it does not take any steps which result in further tensions with the US and instability in the Middle East. In a post coronavirus world, it is likely that not just on the Iran issue, but other crucial economic and geo-political issues, countries like Germany, France, UK and Japan will work collectively, and not bank on Washington to take the lead (given the fact that in recent years, US has become more isolationist).
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Consulting Editor, Geopolitics with The Dispatch, Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi-based Policy Analyst. He is associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonepat, Haryana. He is a former SAV Visiting Fellow (Winter 2016) with the Stimson Centre, Washington DC. Mr Maini was also an Asia Society India-Pakistan Regional Young Leaders Initiative (IPRYLI) Fellow (2013-14), and a Public Policy Scholar with The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy, Chennai (November 2013-March 2014). His research interests include; the role of Punjab in India-Pakistan ties, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the changing nature of Indian federalism. He is a contributor for a number of publications including; The Hindu, The Diplomat, Modern Diplomacy and The Geopolitics.