US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and the resumption of new large-scale trade and economic sanctions against Iran are the implementation of the Donald Trump administration’s efforts to contain Iran’s growing successful activities in the region, aggravating the socio-economic situation in that country and strengthening protests among the Iranians with a view to replacing the current theocratic regime.
The Iranians are used to tough US actions. It has been under sanctions with short breaks for almost 40 years. The 1979 Iranian revolution dealt a heavy blow to the vanity and ambition of the only superpower and engendered the persisting anti-Iran syndrome among the US establishment. The US considers it beneath its dignity to normalize relations with the only Mid-Eastern country on which it has failed to impose its will in the political, economic, ideological and other areas.
The Trump administration did not use the opportunity that opened after the conclusion of the nuclear deal with Iran to engage it in a productive dialogue and the development of relations in areas of mutual interest, which could have promoted the consolidation of the positions of the liberal-reformist wing in the Iranian leadership and the creation of favorable conditions not only for the broad integration of the Iranian economy in the world economic system but also for democratizing the country’s socio-political life and undermining the positions and influence of local radicals. Instead the Trump Republican administration dealt a serious blow to the position of President Hassan Rouhani and his supporters that wanted to normalize relations with the United States but had to retreat and join critics of Washington.
The new sanctions will obviously hit the Iranian economy hard. This is seen in the sharp devaluation of the national currency, the increase in unemployment and inflation and the decline in the economic growth rates. This has already caused discontent among many strata of the population, including those that have always been considered a reliable social basis of the regime -- small and medium traders, craftsmen, workers and residents of rural areas. They are increasingly joining the protests of the politically active students and representatives of the intelligentsia.
Apart from economic demands, the country’s people increasingly appeal for decreasing censorship, removing restrictions on the media, expanding the rights of women and limiting the involvement of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and other law enforcement agencies in the economy and in foreign policy. Indicatively, critical sentiments like this are also being voiced in the Majles, the Iranian Parliament.
Naturally, the Iranian authorities are concerned about these developments and are taking measures to alleviate tensions, primarily, in the economy. The head of Iran’s Central Bank and the ministers of labor and finance have been dismissed. Several other government members are facing the threat of impeachment. A special committee to counter corruption and other economic crimes has been established. Over 300 officials have been charged with corruption and financial fraud. Some have been sent to prison.
The country is stepping up its efforts at mobilizing domestic resources to reduce the pressure of the sanctions as part of the “economy of resistance” announced by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. This course relies on Iran’s domestic forces and opportunities.
At the same time, Iran is sharply intensifying its criticism of the anti-Iran actions by the US administration as the main reason for the deterioration of the socio-economic problems in Iran. The emphasis is laid on enhancing the nationalist feelings of the Iranians as a means of uniting the nation in the face of an external threat.
In the international field, Tehran is actively insisting that the other participants in the JCPOA provide firm guarantees for its trade and economic interests, otherwise threatening to walk out from the nuclear deal. The Euro Trio, represented by Britain, France and Germany have officially reaffirmed their commitment to the Vienna agreements and have already started working out special legal and financial mechanisms for protecting European businesses against US secondary sanctions. Iranians are pessimistic about such statements as they see large European companies deeply linked with the US financial and economic system leave the Iranian market.
Considering this, in a bid to neutralize the effects of the US sanctions, Tehran is primarily relying on China, India, Russia, Turkey and other countries that support the JCPOA and that are ready to continue trade, economic and other ties with Iran for political and economic reasons. Tehran considers these countries, which are the main consumers of Iranian oil, to be the main guarantors in sidestepping the US plans to introduce a complete oil embargo on the oil exports that are the main source of Iran’s budget revenue. China, India and Turkey have announced that they are not going to stop buying Iranian oil. Russian and Chinese companies have expressed their willingness to expand their participation in Iran’s oil and gas projects.
Tehran leaders are least of all concerned about Washington’s intent to use Iran’s domestic problems and any opposition movement to replace the regime. They are sure that the country’s current flexible system of checks and balances and the balance of forces between all branches of power, as well as the manual settlement of arising problems and differences by the institutes of Iran’s Supreme Leader will make it possible to neutralize the economic and political challenges to the regime. In addition, the IRGC and law enforcement bodies reliably control the situation in the country and are ready to remove any excesses.
Iran does not have an organized and strong opposition that can seriously threaten the regime as was the case on the eve of the Shah’s overthrow. The once influential left-radical People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran that Washington supports made a tangible contribution to the victory in the 1979 revolution but was later eliminated from Iran’s political life. It discredited itself by supporting Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war and staging acts of terror against Iranian officials. It does not enjoy support inside the country. The Kurds, Arabs, Baluchis and other national minorities are not eager to fight the IRGC and other law enforcement agencies.
All these circumstances make Iranian leaders confident that the anti-Iran strategy of the Trump administration will not achieve the desired effect.