U.S. sanctions aim to turn Iranians against government, says Khamanei

On Staurday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, was quoted (via his website) as saying that U.S. economic pressure on Iran is intended to turn Iranians against their government. Referring directly to Donald Trump’s decision to both pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement and his threat to reimpose sanctions against The Islamic Republic, Khamenei said that such moves “bring to bear economic pressure to separate the nation from the system … but six U.S. presidents before him tried this and had to give up.” He added to those comments while speaking to graduating Revolutionary Guards officers, by accusing the United States and Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab states that regard Shi’ite Muslim Iran as their main regional foe, of trying to destabilize the government in Tehran. In remarks carried by Iranian state TV he said, “If America was able to act against Iran, it would not need to form coalitions with notorious and reactionary states in the region and ask their help in fomenting unrest and instability (in Iran).”

The Iranian supreme leader’s comments come after the country’s rial currency lost up to 40 per cent of its value following U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the JCPOA (as the nuclear is officially known) which has affected Iranian oil exports. In a bid to further isolate Iran, the United States has also told allies to cut all imports of Iranian oil from November and is unlikely to offer exemptions, according to a senior State Department official.

More worrying still, for the country’s ruling elite, is the fact that the past week saw three days of protests in Tehran and other cities in which hundreds of traders in the bazaar closed their shops to voice anger at the rial’s plunge–a somewhat unprecendented move considering how the country’s leadership has always been able  to count on the loyalty of such merchants since the 1979 Islamic Revolution overthrew the monarchy.

Also worth pointing out, is the news that top government officials including President Hassan Rouhani and the heads of parliament and the judiciary had met during the week to discuss the prospective U.S. sanctions. Much like the European states, who signed on to the JCPOA in 2015, Iranian officials are under pressure to find a way to come up with measures to work around those sanctions. How those efforts unfold remains to be seen, but it is fair to say that the Trump administration has further complicated what has always been a difficult relationship.

As pointed out by the Khamanei in May, the US government reneged on its commitment by pulling out of the nuclear deal. And it is difficult not to view this move as nothing other than a manifestation of the broader effort to corner Iran, as a result of its dogged efforts to dominate the Middle East–a situation that causes much unease amongst Iran’s regional rivals. But the sanctions ultimately affect regular Iranians who have little say over their country’s foreign policy, and sees a repeat of past mistakes that saw both sides squander opportunities of rapprochement. In that sense, the much-maligned JCPOA represented a step in a different direction, as far US-Iran relations are concerned. With that opportunity now seemingly squandered, what remains to be done is for the European powers to drive efforts to normalize relations with Iran, while they work to salvage the parts of the deal that initially saw all signatory states agree to the original deal back in 2015.  

Arthur Jamo
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