I’ll take “least surprising international developments” for 200, Alex. Yesterday, Donald Trump extended US cooperation in the nuclear deal with Iran for what he said would be the last time, warning Iran and Western allies that the US will demand a renegotiation of the pact within the next six months. In response, Iran called the pact “not negotiable” — and accused the US of violating it:
Iranian officials, responding to President Trump’s call to revise the nuclear agreement, said they would reject any changes to the 2015 deal, saying it was “not renegotiable.”
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, wrote on Saturday in a message on Twitter that the nuclear agreement between Iran, the United States and other world powers was “a solid multilateral agreement” that President Trump was “maliciously violating.”
Iran has the upper hand, and the mullahs know it. Barack Obama’s desperation to make this deal undercut any political support in the West for sticking with a hardline position on Iran, let alone returning to it after three years. Iran got almost all of the benefits of this deal up front, so breaking the deal won’t bother them nearly as much as it will bother the P5+1 countries originally aligned against them. Plus, Russia has more strategic interests in common with Iran now — especially in propping up Bashar Assad and extending Iranian hegemony in the Middle East at the expense of Saudi-US influence. Russia won’t cooperate with new sanctions, and neither will China.
Under those circumstances, Trump’s warnings are more akin to empty threats. However, Trump managed to stick Iran with new sanctions anyway, using the protests in the country as leverage to hit Ali Khameini’s political allies. Iran threatened retaliation, but that may more of an empty threat as well:
While approving the waiver on U.S. sanctions related to the nuclear deal, Washington announced other sanctions against 14 Iranian entities and people, including judiciary head Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, a close ally of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Describing sanctions against Larijani as “hostile action”, Iran’s Foreign Ministry said the move “crossed all red lines of conduct in the international community and is a violation of international law and will surely be answered by a serious reaction of the Islamic Republic,” state media reported.
It did not specify what any retaliation might involve.
There’s a reason for that; in this case, Iran’s stuck with the status quo, too. The US does not have many economic ties to Iran, and those that do exist benefit Iran. They can’t attack those, and any military-terrorist retaliation against the US would only serve to galvanize Western sentiment against Iran all over again, and might finally force Iran back to the negotiating table. The generally positive trend in their foreign policy means the mullahs have a lot more to lose now than before the deal was struck, which limits their options.
The targeting of Larijani is meant to highlight the plight of the oppressed Iranians and to encourage them to keep protesting for their own liberation. Protestors told Fox News through social media that they want to thank Trump and the American people for our support:
The group is calling for Iran’s oil exports to also be subject to sanctions, the ability of the Tehran regime to access the international banking system to be cut off, as well as other punitive measures.
The activists predict stronger methods will work, and are thanking the president and the American public for keeping up the pressure.
“We thank you President Trump. We call on all of the supporters of the people who press this regime from different fronts, to put pressure with you and overthrow with us,” the activist told Fox News in broken English.
He and others said they are grateful that the Trump administration is expressing support for the resistance that has been staging many of the protests. The demonstrations started Dec. 28, and the government claims that they have largely been quelled.
The best option, although probably not the most likely, is to have the Obama deal mooted by a change in the Iranian regime that ends the nuclear threat along with the mullahcracy behind it. By keeping sanctions pressure on the regime, Trump leaves that potential in play.