Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, has only been in Europe since Tuesday, but has already been made the subject of multiple large-scale demonstrations against European countries doing business with Iran.
On Wednesday, Zarif’s visit to speak before France’s Senate was marred by protests at the pavilion of the Pantheon, a mausoleum and landmark in Paris’ 5th arrondissement. Members of the Iranian opposition and their supporters chanted “Zarif, terroriste” and “Zarif, assassin” and held flyers and placards expressing contempt for the Zarif and the Iranian government.
As Zarif headed to the Netherlands on Thursday, June 23, he was unsurprisingly greeted by further demonstrations. A crowd of Iranian nationals and their allies rallied outside the parliament building at The Hague, the Netherlands’ political capital. Their demands included that the Dutch government base all business dealings with Iran on the condition of an end to execution of political prisoners by Iran’s government.
An end to sanctions, but a sluggish economic rebound
Despite the rollback of nuclear sanctions by the United States and others in 2015, Iran has witnessed a delayed reentry into international petroleum markets, has attracted less foreign investment than anticipated, and has been unable to access its frozen international assets.
Eager to tap into the European petroleum market and obtain an aura of legitimacy in the international business world, Iran has been flexing its public relations capabilities to try to change perceptions of the regime as a business pariah. Zarif’s visit to France and the Netherlands is widely viewed as having been undertaken in order to drum up foreign investment in Iran.
But Iran’s ongoing human rights abuses have undercut its credibility and have bound the hands of many foreign investors and diplomats who are hesitant to invest in a country which regular hangs political dissidents, detains citizens without explanation, and restricts civil liberties.
Additionally, rock-bottom oil prices since 2015 have left little room or desire for new entries to the international petroleum market. Iran is the second highest oil-producing country in the world, but has been unable to reenter key international markets since global sanctions began in 2012.
While many ordinary Iranian citizens rejoiced at the end of international nuclear sanctions, Iran has faced continued or worsening economic problems since 2015, including factory closures and high poverty rates.
Zarif’s speech before the French Senate on Tuesday dealt mostly with financial issues, Iran’s desire to eliminate red tape, and politics, but did not address demonstrators’ concerns about human rights abuses by Iran.