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ANALYSIS: Will new sanctions change the balance of power in Iran?

Motorists drive past Azadi Tower in Tehran on January 13, 2018. (AFP)

US President Donald Trump is calling for new sanctions on Iran in his Friday decision, while providing Tehran with sanctions relief “for the last time” under an accord he himself describes as the “worst deal ever.”

The President is stepping into this verdict after consulting the all-important Iran question with his national security team. The factor changing the playing field now is the nationwide protests that continue to threaten the very pillars of Iran’s regime.

New scenario

The law obliges the US administration to announce every 90 days whether Iran is complying with a 2015 agreement the international community aiming to curb Tehran’s nuclear program.

The fact that Iran is shaking under the feat of tens of thousands of protesters in over 140 cities across the country raises Trump’s latest decision to an unprecedented and utterly dangerous level for Tehran.

This follows first the United Nations Security Council discussion of Iran’s human rights violations, and as US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said it best, the voice of the Iranian people being heard. The new sanctions, targeting most importantly Iranian judiciary chief Sadegh Amoli Larijani, are of human rights nature and place the crosshairs on Tehran’s “Achilles’ Heel.”

This will definitely act as a wakeup call for all senior and lower level officials Iranian involved in four decades of human rights violations, devastating millions of Iranian families across the country.

These new tougher measures come as the Trump administration is voicing strong support for anti-government protesters spreading to many Iranian cities, and from a president who continues to harshly criticize the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

‘Other issues’

“The president has been very clear that many aspects of the Iran deal need to be changed,” US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a recent interview. “There are many activities outside of the Iran deal, whether it be ballistic missiles, whether it be other issues, that we will continue to sanction, that are outside the JCPOA — human rights violations — we couldn’t be more focused.”

“We have as many sanctions on Iran today as we have on any other country in the process, and we will continue to look at things,” Mnuchin told VOA. Iran’s domestic crackdown is now an issue parallel to its regional aggression and nuclear/ballistic missile proliferation. The international community is now focusing on this new aspect of Iran’s belligerence, despite the regime’s long effort of maintaining a lid on this issue.

In Iran the JCPOA is dubbed as “Barjam” and there is talk of “Barjam 2, 3 and 4,” referring to the regime’s concerns of possible negotiations – and resulting setbacks – to discuss its Middle East meddling, ballistic missile ambitions and now, the gross human rights violations that have maintained a very restive society under the regime’s iron fist grip.

Iran is continuously seeking to drive a rift between the US and Europe on the JCPOA, emphasizing all non-nuclear related issues must remain outside these discussions.

Trump’s latest decision is defusing Iran’s plot by allowing Congress and Washington’s European partners a last chance to upgrade the nuclear deal. Iran is facing an enormous uphill battle, knowing its nuclear and ballistic missile programs may now considered “inseparable,” all sites can become targets of immediate inspections, and “sunset provisions” may no longer be acceptable.

Despite all the stonewalling, Europe no longer has any excuses up its sleeves, especially considering the fact that Tehran’s human rights dossier is now demands immediate attention.

Economic isolation

“Iran has no true economic ally” is the title of a recent article read in the semi-official “Jahan-e San’at” (Industry World) daily. Chinese bank, long considered a sanctuary for Tehran, are no longer agreeing to cooperate with Iranian entities similar to the past.

US is increasing economic sanctions against Tehran on a daily basis, while Turkey, a long partner of Iran, is also holding back, recalling the troubling Halkbank scenario.

Iran’s currency, the rial, is plunging without any operational solution in the near future. The ruling regime is becoming unable to fund power stations providing electricity, and this is enormously embarrassing, and very telling, for a country sitting on the world’s second largest natural gas and fourth largest crude oil reserves.

Considering the fact that the rial has been a very shaky currency in the past 40 years, analysts are forecasting an enormous and compelling economic crisis in the making for Tehran’s rulers.

This brews major concerns for this regime’s near future, especially since the latest unrest sparked with an economic focus and quickly avalanched into a huge political challenge endangering the entire regime establishment. This is a simmering fire with enormous potential, and Iran’s rulers understand this better than all other parties.

Changing balance of power

It is quite obvious that Iranian officials remain concerned about Washington’s possible exiting from the JCPOA and the resulting crippling economic impact for their regime. With protests continuing across the country, however, Tehran’s concerns multiply and senior officials are facing a devastating impasse.

The US’ objective is to place Iran under the center of international attention, increase global pressure and having partners board ship in the new White House approach vis-à-vis Tehran. This policy can and should witness Washington continuing to express support for the Iranian people and their demand for regime change.

Discussing Iran’s human rights violations and the new episode of crackdown measures against protesters will act as a major obstacle in the face of Iran’s foreign ambitions. In contrast to the JCPOA, in this regard Tehran understands vividly it cannot rely on Europe to create a divide in the West’s stance.

The new Iran uprising is changing the balance of power against the ruling regime’s favor both inside the country and abroad, with more voices raising against Tehran across the board. Looking forward, the JCPOA and all others subjects will increasingly haunt Iran’s regime in the near future.

The grassroots nature of these protests also underscore the undeniable fact that when the inevitable transformation begins to realize in Iran, the Iranian populace, without any unnecessary foreign intervention, will determine their future.

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Last Update: Monday, 15 January 2018 KSA 09:01 - GMT 06:01
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