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On Sunday, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani warned the United States against pursuing policies hostile to his country, saying that war with Iran would be “the mother of all wars.” Relations between the two countries took a nosedive this May when President Trump withdrew the U.S. from a 2015 deal over Iran’s nuclear program. The United States has since targeted Iran with sanctions and a smear campaign to push leaders to end their nuclear program and halt support for militant groups. Despite internal support, America’s policies may be pushing Iran towards greater repression and nuclear proliferation.
Under the 2015 agreement, international powers like Germany and France agreed to lift economic sanctions in exchange for limits on Iran’s nuclear developments. The United Nation’s International Atomic Energy Agency reports that the agreement was working. However, with America reimposing sanctions, international leaders are concerned about the agreement’s future. Reuters reports that Iran’s oil exports may fall by as much as two thirds as a result of sanctions. Iran has threatened to leave the agreement if European countries cannot offer an economic package to compensate for this, and negotiations have so far been unsuccessful. Former secretary of State John Kerry also tweeted that the U.S.’s withdrawal has “expower[ed] Iran’s hardliners, and reduce[d] our global leverage to address Tehran’s misbehavior.”
Meanwhile, the deteriorating relationship between the U.S. and Iran has had a dire impact on Iranians. Sanctions have worsened the country’s existing economic strains, and the United States’ smear campaign further strokes this discontent. As Trump increase pressure on Rouhani’s regime, Mirzababa Motaharinejad, a spokesman for Mardomsalary, a moderate political group, reports that Tehran has responded by cracking down on the opposition. Iran already has a history of repressive policies, imprisoning activists and human rights defenders. As internal strains grow, Iran will continue to respond with hostile, authoritarian policies.
While Tehran’s aggressive rhetoric is indefensible, the United States’ hardline approach to deproliferation, which calls for total disarmament, is only worsening prospects for peace. Rouhani’s threats are likely a response to internal pressures, meaning that as sanctions continue, tensions, and the potential for reconciliation, will likely get worse. The U.S. is undermining a successful accord, leaving the door open for greater nuclear proliferation in the future. Additionally, as this agreement breaks down, ties between Iran and other international powers will likely become strained as well. As such, other countries will be unable to push for other reforms in Iran, including better human rights practices and an end to state sponsored terrorism. Absent a revolution, which in itself would likely be violent and destabilizing, Tehran will likely continue its authoritarian crackdowns and aggressive foreign policy.
Although Iranian officials did not rule out the possibility of rebuilding a relationship with America, prospects are dim. Iran recently filed suit against the United States with the International Court of Justice, alleging America violated a 1955 treaty. Trump has also shown no willingness to reopen talks with Iran. While it seems unlikely that Iran will begin the “mother of all wars,” the breakdown of the accord will continue to birth violence and instability.