Political flexibility has to some extent worked out for Iran, bringing the Islamic Republic out of isolation. For instance, Spain and Germany have surpassed China as top investors in the country in the post-sanctions era, indicating that the Europeans appear to be moving to gain a fair share of the Iranian market. The major remaining obstacle thus appears to be outstanding political disputes between Iran and Europe.
Given that many of these disputes have roots in geopolitical conflicts of interest, no permanent solution is on the horizon. Germany and other European giants are well aware of the latter. Yet their rhetoric suggests that they are attempting to use Iran’s weak economic standing to press for Tehran to abandon some of its foreign policy posturing.
Conditioning of trade and investment will not necessarily lead to the desired foreign policy adjustments. Indeed, European leaders should not overlook that Rouhani’s authority is limited. Pushing through the nuclear deal and the softer approaches toward the West cost the Iranian president a major portion of his political capital, and the relatively meager dividends so far have not reinforced his position. Given that Rouhani will clearly not be an eternal opportunity, Western states ought to make better use of the remainder of his tenure.