When and if a deal delivers sanctions relief, Iran is expected to pocket north of $100 billion in a windfall in released funds—and reap further profits from no-longer-sanctioned industries such as oil. What they want to do with the money might go beyond even the standard pessimistic take of many U.S. commentators (who notice small, inconvenient things such as that Iran is already doing pretty well running its proxies in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen right now). An important, under-reported story from last week gives a clue. According to Reuters:
Venezuela has signed an agreement with Iran for a $500 million credit line to fund joint investments and help improve supplies of goods “necessary for the Venezuelan people,” President Nicolas Maduro said on Friday.
Declining oil prices have crimped Venezuela’s cash-flow and aggravated shortages of consumer goods ranging from dish soap to milk, leaving Maduro’s government seeking financing from allies around the world.
“We’ve signed (an agreement for) an open credit for $500 million that will begin to function immediately,” Maduro said during a televised address following a meeting with an Iranian delegation.
As a deal has looked more and more likely this spring, Iran has been able to start spending a bit against its expected future earnings. The Venezuelan agreement, for instance, would look foolish for a nation under sanctions for the indefinite future. But for a regime that’s a bit more flush, it’s a good way to start causing trouble in non-Middle Eastern areas.
The Venezuelan regime has been a traditional thorn in America’s backside (and back yard), but it’s teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. By supporting it, Iran both perpetuates a distraction for America (which has more than its share of them right now) and signals its intention to reassert its role as one of the leaders of the broader “non-aligned movement.”
As Michael Rubin recently pointed out at Commentary in regard to the Iranian press’s activities in Africa, there are a lot more places out there open to Iranian influence—provided a little money can get involved—than one might at first think:
Cold, hard cash also plays a role. Iranian officials, for example, have long pursued a strategy to cultivate Africa. Tehran has sought to buy the votes of non-permanent African members of the UN Security Council and members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors, for example, beyond seeking logistical bases for its military and potential uranium exporters.
If the “new global disorder” continues to increase, and if the U.S. seems to be having more trouble in more places, Iran’s opportunities to cause headaches with a little cash and influence will likely expand. When and if the Administration decides to sign a deal, we hope that someone in the West Wing has plans for how to counter moves like this one.