11 November 2018

Why Leaving the Iran Nuclear Deal Won’t Work

Leaving the Iran nuclear deal is meant to put pressure on the Iranian government. But so far, most of the pressure is being felt by Iran’s citizens. 

Iran’s steeply depreciating currency has plunged the country into a potentially explosive economic crisis, with several waves of public protests since December. The situation was exacerbated by U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to violate the terms of the Iran nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions. 

The Trump administration believes that by exerting “maximum pressure,” Iran will inevitably return to the negotiating table, or face implosion or even regime change. Economic strangulation is the core of this strategy. By sanctioning Iran’s oil industry and banking institutions, the United States plans to weaken Iran’s economy and provoke its sizable middle class, along with working and poor classes, to rise up against the state.

Trump believes his strategy is working. “Iran is falling apart,” he claimed in a Fox News interview in July. “They are having big protests all over the country, probably as big as they ever had before. And that all happens since I terminated that [nuclear] deal.” While the U.S. impact on these protests remains unclear, Iran is not falling apart. But it is preparing itself politically and economically to cope with the renewed American sanctions and potential internal upheaval.

In Iran, Crisis May Unify Rival Factions

Two weeks after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal in May, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo outlined the parameters of the administration’s “new Iran strategy” that he believes would lead to a “better deal” with Tehran. Iran predictably did not accept these sweeping demands. The Trump administration’s approach of both exerting maximum pressure on Iran and demanding maximum concessions has added a new element into Iran’s political scene that could have an unpredictable long-term outcome. Based on Tehran’s reaction so far, though, it doesn’t look like it will come to the negotiating table anytime soon. If anything, the new U.S. strategy could intensify the cold war in the Middle East.

Sanctions Will Hit Iran’s Economy, but That Won’t Help Iran’s Protesters

The popular demonstrations that have erupted periodically in Iran since December of 2017 offered a pretext for President Donald Trump to renege on the nuclear deal, which he pulled out of the following May, after having demonized the deal throughout his first year in office. But breaking the 2015 agreement by piling on sanctions pressure will undermine the very protesters the administration has vocally supported. The threat of new U.S. sanctions would also limit American leverage in pursuing regional stability and nonproliferation. 

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