Can US visa reform foil Rouhani’s PMD victory?

Can US visa reform foil Rouhani’s PMD victory?

Baku, Azerbaijan, Dec. 16

By Farhad Daneshvar - Trend:

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's address to the nation Dec. 16 on the closure of the PMD conveyed a special message to his voters and critics.

Rouhani wanted to say he fulfilled his electoral promise on the country's nuclear program as the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) Board of Governors adopted a resolution closing the PMD (possible military dimensions to Tehran's nuclear program) file - a move that ends a 12-year probe into Tehran's nuclear program, confirming that Iran's nuclear activity is peaceful.

Saying the international sanctions on Tehran, imposed by the West over Iran's nuclear program, will be lifted within a couple of weeks, he urged international companies, Iranians residing abroad, and both domestic and foreign entrepreneurs to engage in projects to revive Iran's economy.

The next step for the moderate president after removal of the sanctions will be "luring" foreign investments to boost the country's ailing economy and aging industry.

Meanwhile, some observers still believe it will not be easy for Rouhani to draw foreigners' attention as the ties between Tehran and Washington haven't been normalized yet.

The normalization of these ties, as many believe, can be further hampered by the US Visa Waiver Program, which imposes some restrictions on foreigners intending to visit the US.

"The HR 158 Bill [the US Visa Waiver Program], which is now a part of an omnibus budget bill considered by the US congress, is partly designed to prevent Iran from benefiting from the JCPOA [the nuclear deal]," Hooshang Amirahmadi, the president of American Iranian Council, believes.

Further speaking on the issue, Amirahmadi told Trend Dec. 16 that the move will indeed impact Iran's economy.

"Note that the Bill, which will almost certainly be enacted into law, will make anyone traveling to Iran a subject to the US Visa requirement," he said. "That includes citizens of many European countries, Japan and South Korea, who currently can travel to the US without a prior visa."

"Even Iranian-Americans, who the Iranian government wanted to attract, will be detracted from traveling to Iran. Discouraging so many people around the world from traveling to Iran will have a serious negative effect on Iranian economy," he explained.

Aiming at preventing possible terror attacks, the US House of Representatives voted in favor of the bill bringing changes to the Visa Waiver Program, which would discourage lots of international investors and firms from visiting the Islamic Republic.

Rouhani pledges to maintain economy

During his electoral campaign Hassan Rouhani vowed to improve the country's ailing economy, which has fatally weakened following the West's decision to impose sever sanctions on Tehran's economy and industry over the country's nuclear program.

Since 2002, when Iran's nuclear program became public, the Western states and international organizations imposed sanctions against Tehran justifying the move as an attempt aimed at preventing the Islamic Republic from developing a nuclear weapon.

Iran said its nuclear program had no military dimensions, stressing that its nuclear activities are peaceful. However, the sanctions were intensified in mid-2012 targeting Iran's economy and industry, particularly its oil and gas industry, which is the main source of income for the country.

In order to settle the nuclear issue, Rouhani, for the first time over the last three decades of the Islamic Republic's history, announced his brave decision on conducting direct talks with the US. The talks eventually brought a landmark nuclear deal between Tehran and the world powers in July that would scale down Iran's nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of the sanctions.

Victory vs. failure

The IAEA Board of Governors' Dec. 15 resolution is considered a key step towards lifting the sanctions on Iran.

Iran expects that within the coming month it will be able to trade through international financial systems, receive $100 billion of its frozen assets, as well as resume oil trade on international markets.

"In the wake of the declining oil prices, the Bill [US Visa Waiver Program] will prove disastrous for Iran and Iranians," said Hooshang Amirahmadi.

"I don't believe that even a victory for Rouhani, moderates or reformists in the next parliamentary election this coming February in Iran will be of any help to US-Iran relations as long as the supreme leader and his hard-line supporters remain opposed to the US, insist in keeping Assad in power, remain hostile to Israel, and support Hezbollah and the Palestinians," Amirahmadi concluded.

Farhad Daneshvar is Trend Agency's staff journalist, follow him on Twitter: @farhad_danesh

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