Vali Nasr, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SIAS) in Washington, explains how the current rapprochement between Iran and the United States has has come at an opportune time for Turkey. In the past several years, Erdogan’s Middle East policy has unravelled in Egypt and Syria with “the United States stopped looking to Ankara for advice on how to manage the Middle East. Instead, Washington became concerned that the antigovernment protests sweeping the Arab world might destabilize Turkey, too.”
Nasr’s assessment may be too optimistic, Iranian relations with Turkey have their own dynamics conditioned by competitive interests in Central Asia and Southern Europe.
According to an article in the LA Times, Rouhani’s opening with the United States has encouraged tour agencies in the United States to explore possible tours inside Iran. It seems that a boomlet has begun. The article quotes Janet Moore, owner of the Long Beach-based tour operator Distant Horizons, saying she “arranged Iranian trips for 50-60 U.S. travelers in 2013. In 2014, she expects that number to be at least 250 people, including three trips in connection with the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia and one with the San Francisco-based Commonwealth Club of California.”
Immersive drama set in a Tehran taxi: Iranian cabs afford passengers a degree of anonymity, paving the way for uninhibited conversations and a new play.
According to this AP report, Hillary Clinton’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Jake Sullivan, was one of the officials involved in secret meetings with Iranians in Oman, the other official was Bill Burns, a high level State Department official. For two years ( 2010-2012), American and Iranian officials met in secret locations to hammer out their differences. All of this happened while the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei kept up a public posture of Anti-American statements.
Born on March 12, 1970, there is not much information about his family background and how he managed to become such a wealthy person with extensive networks of companies and financial entities in Malaysia and Tajikistan that handled billions of dollars of business for him. In one interview, Zanjani stated that he had been the driver of the Governor of the Central Bank in 1989-1990, and acted as a courier transferring millions of dollars from the bank and selling dollars on the black market worth millions of dollars. In less than a decade, he had 65 companies in a group called the Sorinet Group operating in a range of industries such as cosmetics, food, oil and aviation. The website of his Sorinet Group shows at least a dozen company names, mostly based in the UAE, with some in Turkey. He denied that his oil company, International Safe Oil, had any business with Iran’s oil industry.
Despite his public denials, several reports pointed to Zanjani’s involvement in the efforts of Iranian government to bypass the oil sanctions by selling oil to middlemen in Malaysia and Hong Kong. What connects Zanjani to these activities is the use of the First Islamic Investment Bank of Kuala Lumpur that issued LCs and secret arrangements to ship millions of barrels of oil to ports off the east coast of Malaysia. A Reuters examination of shipping movements and interviews shows how Iranian crude was being shipped to these area and loaded on to empty vessels at night to await potential Asian buyers. They stored “the oil on hired tankers operating under the Panamanian flag in the calm waters off the tax-haven port of Labuan – an offshore financial centre about the size of Manhattan – means Iran can keep its own fleet active and ensure the flow of oil money into its struggling economy.
In interviews, Babak Zanjani talked about his role and involvement in transferring oil to Asian clients. He also talked about how a foreign bank confiscated $250 million of these oil revenue proceeds under pressures from the United States. Zanjani has also talked openly about how he started his companies during Iran-Iraq war, and by 1990s and early 2000, he had established 64 companies, and had become a board member of the Malaysia-based bank. He gloated about his ability to transfer 17.5 billion euro into Iranian banks. He confirmed some of the reports about oil transfers to Malaysia and Hong Kong, saying that some of the Asian companies wanted to buy Iranian oil, but no bank was willing to process the financial paperwork. Hence, he helped Iran sell its oil. Zanjani also talked about his activities in Iraq, and how he helped with oil transfers from Iraq through Iran to Afghanistan. In the past two decades, Zanjani has received “businessman of the year” awards from Rafsanjani, Khatami, and Ahmadinejad, and has not shied away from displaying his incredible wealth. He now owns a major soccer team in Iran, and the Qeshm Airlines, and Asian Express Airlines in Tajikistan.
How could a 43 year old individual become so wealthy in such a short period of time, and how is it possible for him to get oil contracts from NIOC and the Oil Ministry worth billions of dollars? Although there is very little information about his family background and his reach inside the Islamic regime’s political system, it is obvious that this individual has powerful backers, particularly in the IRGC.
Reports about the corruption scandal in Turkey reveal the connections between the Iranian at the center of the corruption scandal ( Reza Zarrab), and his chief in Iran, Babak Zanjani, who is reported to enrich himself to the tune of billions of dollars from businesses structured to avoid international sanctions.