Iran: One year into the nuclear agreement

As hardliners gain more power in Iran, as a result of the lifting of sanctions, domestic crackdowns have been on the rise as well

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

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On July 14, 2015, Iran and the six world powers known as the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) reached an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program that would curb the country’s nuclear ambitions and put a hold on Tehran’s illicit nuclear activities.

The advocates of the deal including President Obama promised that the deal will bring positive changes. To get the nuclear deal through, they raised hopes that engaging with the Iranian leaders as well as signing a nuclear deal with Tehran would make the Iranian government’s behavior more moderate.

For example, Mr. Obama pointed out in an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep that as a result of the nuclear agreement “Iran starts different decisions that are less offensive to its neighbors; that it tones down the rhetoric in terms of its virulent opposition to Israel. And, you know, that’s something that we should welcome.”

Now one year into the nuclear agreement, what are the domestic, regional, global, geopolitical and economic implications? How has the Iranian government changed?

Reports show that as the hardliners gain more power in Iran, as a result of the lifting of sanctions, domestic crackdowns have been on the rise as well

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

The domestic implications

On the domestic level, a new poll shows that Iranian people have become disappointed the nuclear agreement, which is officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Money has not trickled down to the people.

In the last year, The Islamic Republic hit the highest rate of executing people since 1989. The official number indicates that Iran executed nearly two times more people in 2015 in comparison to 2010 when Iran faced sanctions, when the hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in office, as well as roughly 10 times more than the number of executions in 2005.

Approximately 1,000 people were executed in 2015, according to the latest report from the United Nations investigator, Ahmed Shaheed, the special rapporteur for human rights in Iran. The unofficial number is higher.

Reports show that as the hardliners gain more power in Iran, as a result of the lifting of sanctions, domestic crackdowns have been on the rise as well.

The regional implications

As the nuclear terms started being implemented, the Obama administration began transferring billions of dollars to Iran’s Central Bank. One of the payments included $1.7 billion, in January 2015, of which approximately 25 percent ($400 million) came from money paid by the government of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and the remaining amount was the accumulated interest.

Iran immediately increased its military budget by $1.5 billion from $15.6 billion to $17.1 billion. On April 10 2015, The Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) quoted Mohammadreza Pour Ebrahimi, a member of the parliament’s Economic Affairs Committee, as pointing out that: “In addition to the approved figures, $1.5 billion has been allocated to prop up defense of the country and this amount has been approved by this committee.”

Based on regional developments, after the nuclear agreement, a decrease in Iran’s interference in domestic affairs of other regional states did not correlate with expectations. For the first time, Hezbollah admitted receiving financial and military assistance from Iran.

Iran’s military involvement in Iraq has been steadily on the rise. The Islamic Republic became more forceful in supporting and assisting the Syrian government, Bashar Al Assad, militarily, and economically, as well as providing intelligence and acting in an advisory role.

Almost all signs indicate that the continuation of sanctions relief, as a consequence of the nuclear accord, is also helping Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Quds force (IRGC branch which functions in extraterritorial operations) to buttress Iran’s proxies including Hezbollah, the Houthis, and Iraqi Shiite militias.

According the State Department intelligence report, Iran remained “the foremost state sponsor of terrorism in 2015”. The report added that Iran has been “providing a range of support, including financial, training and equipment, to groups around the world.”

The nuclear terms and implications

One of the concerns of the nuclear agreement has been that Iran might cheat after it gets what it wants. The sanctions being lifted, and Iran has cheated based on the latest report. In its annual report of 317 pages, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution said that the Iranian government has pursued a “clandestine” path to obtain illicit nuclear technology and equipment from German companies “at what is, even by international standards, a quantitatively high level.”

This is in violation of the nuclear deal that requires Iran to get permission from a UN Security Council panel for "purchases of nuclear direct-use goods.”
In addition, while there were expectations were that the nuclear accord would draw some boundaries or reduce Iran’s ballistic missile program, Iran has escalated its ballistic missiles exercises publicly.

Furthermore, the major decision maker in Iran, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has not shown any sign of moderating his provocative statements and stance towards other countries in the region, or even towards, the United States.

The United States and other members of the P5+1 have disregarded Iran’s violations, the increasing regional adventurism and interventionism. They have not reacted forcefully or sent a robust signal to Iran’s IRGC that these activities would further endanger the stability of the Middle East and potentially run the risk of scuttling the nuclear agreement.

Not only Iran has technically breached the nuclear deal, but also been empowered to apply more hard power domestically and regionally due the nuclear agreement. Iran appears more determined to build a regional hegemony or acts belligerently with its hard power capabilities and enhanced legitimacy.

These issues are also occurring due to the acquiescence of the Western powers. The more the West continues with the appeasement policies towards Iran, the more Iran will be emboldened to continue this path.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and Harvard University scholar, is president of the International American Council. Rafizadeh serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University. He is also a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University. Rafizadeh served as a senior fellow at Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington DC. He has been a recipient of several scholarships and fellowship including from Oxford University, Annenberg University, University of California Santa Barbara, and Fulbright Teaching program. He served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and taught at University of California Santa Barbara through Fulbright Teaching Scholarship. He can be reached at Dr.rafizadeh@fas.harvard.edu, @Dr_Rafizadeh.

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