If you didn’t know any better, the headlines might be misleading. The Associated Press declared, “Iran Votes to Join Pact to Combat Terror Financing,” while Deutsche Welle’s headline was equally emphatic, “Iran’s parliament votes to combat financing of terrorism.” At first, you might be fooled into thinking that the Iranian parliament’s vote to ratify an international treaty combatting terror financing represents a veritable sea-change in policy. If so, it would be rather dramatic – Earlier this month, US President Trump described Tehran as the “world’s leading sponsor of terrorism,” while France recently froze Iranian assets in response to a failed terror attack on French soil.
But it appears that few are being duped. The aesthetics of such a parliamentary vote may be attractive, but a more in-depth look at the media coverage reveals a more accurate account of events. Just a glance at Golnar Motevalli’s comment in Bloomberg is striking enough, describing the legislation as “a tug of war between Iran’s governing moderates and their hardline conservative opponents.” As if combatting terror finance could ever be controversial? Only in Iran.
And it is clear from much of the media coverage, that the only real motivation from the bill’s supporters is economic, to blunt the impact of renewed US sanctions. The Financial Times’ Najmeh Bozorgmehr explained that “Ratifying the treaty was a crucial step for Iran to show its compliance with recommendations from the Financial Action Task Force, a Paris-based body that sets global standards… It gave Iran until October, when FATF next meets, to take measures, including ratifying some UN treaties, or face being put back on the blacklist.” Deutsche Welle concurred, saying “Paris-based FATF had given Iran until mid-October to comply with its standards or face possible measures that would further deter investors.” Confirming the suspicions, the Associated Press commented “Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called Sunday’s vote a ‘historic decision’ that would make it easier for Russia and China – which also signed the nuclear accord – to continue doing business with Iran as the U.S. restores sanctions.”
Opponents of the legislation made clear they were concerned that the new law might be incompatible with Tehran’s steadfast support for terror groups. The Financial Times piece reported, “Mohammad Ali Movahedi Kermani, a senior cleric and politician, said on Friday that the FATF… might prevent Iran from supporting its proxy forces in the region, notably Lebanon’s Hizbollah and Yemen’s Houthis.” He need not have worried. The Associated Press report commented that the legislation is “unlikely to prevent Iran from continuing to support such groups.” According to analysts, the law approved by Iran’s parliament includes several loopholes, including an exemption to fund anything considered a “legitimate struggle.”
In fact, as the Financial Times makes clear, the true concern of the bill’s opponents may be nothing to do with the continued backing for terror groups. The root cause of their opposition may in fact be their own greed and largesse. It quotes Abbas Abdi, a reformist commentator, who said opponents of the plan were not worried so much about proxy forces in the region “but about money-laundering inside Iran which happened ‘as easy as drinking water’, he said. ‘Those who earn black money through smuggling, bribery, embezzlement and so on clean it in local banks but the FATF rules would make it impossible or difficult,’ he added.” Indeed, it is such corruption and wilful economic mismanagement which is responsible for Iran’s financial woes.
As if to emphasise the point, at the same time as the shenanigans over terror financing were taking place in Iran’s parliament, strikes and protests were underway across the country as living conditions worsen. It was left to local or regional media such as Asharq Al-Aswat to report these events, with official Iranian media insisting that it was business as usual and that the country’s currency was strengthening. It is to the credit of the international media, that many appear to have seen through the façade of the anti-terror bill. However, it is also about time that they recognised the obfuscation of a regime desperately attempting to hide its economic tragedy and the justified anger of its people.