When Donald Trump’s sanctions hit Iran’s oil exports next month, the Islamic republic will not just scramble to find alternative revenues to provide an 80m-strong population with medicine and other vital commodities. Tehran is also keen to make sure the president of the country they call the “Great Satan” fails in his goal to shut down Iran’s main economic lifeline. “Trump must and will definitely suffer an embarrassing failure by not being able to bring down Iran’s oil exports to zero,” said a senior energy businessman close to the regime.
“We will achieve this even if [we have] to barter crude for Russian weapons or store our crude in Malaysia and Thailand.” Iran, which derives a large part of its foreign currencies and state revenues from oil exports, is seeking creative ways to sell its oil ahead of the reimposition of US sanctions on November 4. At stake are Iran’s hopes of maintaining some leverage in negotiations with the Trump administration.
Insiders believe any talks with Washington could only happen once Iran has shown it can withstand the new sanctions and, as a result, not have its hands tied at the negotiating table. Plans under consideration to circumvent the sanctions include an initiative to revive “middlemen” who would be allowed to buy barrels of crude through a domestic energy exchange, or “bourse”, and sell them in world markets under the guise of Iran’s “private sector”.
Established in 2012, the bourse has not traded oil since at least 2015, when Iran agreed to curb its nuclear ambitions in exchange for the lifting of crippling international sanctions. The measure is a sign of how desperate the regime is to maintain even the smallest amount of oil exports. Babak Zanjani, a local businessman, is facing a death sentence for refusing to pay back $2.8bn worth of crude he sold to Asian buyers and never paid back the state under the previous sanctions era.