Protests in Tehran: Will the pain of sanctions change Iran’s nuke calculus?
Advocates of that line of thinking may have seen Wednesday’s protests as vindication — but it may not be that simple. While President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad eagerly concurs that it is Western sanctions that are behind the economic chaos in Iran, his political opponents — loyalists of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatullah Ali Khamenei — actually blame Ahmadinejad’s mismanagement of the economy for the precipitous currency collapse. That sentiment appears to have been shared by many on the streets in the series of small demonstrations around Tehran on Wednesday: Most of the protesters’ rage appears to have been directed at Ahmadinejad, who was accused of failing to take measures necessary to protect Iranian living standards. After all, the Iranian economy isn’t exactly on the verge of collapse, and the regime is believed to have a foreign currency reserve of some $100 billion. Indeed, the fact that it is still sending billions in aid to prop up the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad — another sore point with protesters on Wednesday — underscores the fact that is not exactly bankrupt, yet.
So, even if sanctions are fueling the economic pain that is prompting Iranians to return to streets in protest, the expectation that such demonstrations will prompt Iran’s leaders to surrender a nuclear program that has been among their long-term priorities requires a considerable leap of faith. ”It would be optimistic at best to hope that the deteriorating economic circumstances will spur Iran’s leaders to shift their nuclear stance,” said Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy last month. “They do not seem to know or care much about the country’s economic situation — their own income has been hurt only a little, if at all, and they appear unconcerned about the prospect of popular unrest given their past success at repressing opposition. For now, they are likely to stay the course on both domestic economic policy and the nuclear issue.”…
The fact that the protesters are targeting Ahmadinejad may actually suit the regime in Tehran, which is effectively headed by Ayatullah Ali Khamenei.