On Jan.12, 2018, President Trump renewed
the nuclear deal with Iran. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster was the lead official in helping Trump rollout the decision. The President extended sanctions relief under the deal, keeping it intact for at least another 120 days, but said he would not issue any further waivers, as he negotiates a modified deal with European allies.
In extending the deal, Treasury also issued new sanctions on Iran; the president set a four-month window for Congress and our European allies suggest ideas for a new “pact,” which was neither a treaty nor a signed document. The head of Iran’s judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, is named on the sanctions lists, as is a Chinese network helping Iran procure weapons.
The measures are meant to pressure Tehran over ongoing missile tests and its crackdown on Iranian protesters. At the end of 2017 and beginning of this year, Iran has seen its largest demonstrations since the 2009 presidential “election, which are really “selections,” by the Ayatollahs controlling the process.
“The United States will not stand by while the Iranian regime continues to engage in human rights abuses and injustice, said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. “We are targeting the Iranian regime, including the head of Iran's judiciary, for its appalling mistreatment of its citizens, including those imprisoned solely for exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly, and for censoring its own people as they stand up in protest…” “We are also targeting Iran's ballistic missile program and destabilizing activities, which it continues to prioritize over the economic well-being of the Iranian people.”
Explanations of Protests
In a seminal moment in American publishing history, Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an Iranian opposition coalition based in Paris, penned a post in The Wall Street Journal. Rajavi said “…the 2009 protests were sparked by rifts at the top of the regime. The current protests — which began in Iran’s second-largest city of Mashhad and quickly spread across the country — were motivated by rising prices, economic ruin, widespread corruption and resentment toward the regime.”
In fact, economic mismanagement stems from inherent flaws in the political system, which increases each day. So, there is a demand by the people for regime change by them and for them It seems, as the most viable outcome. Consider this difference: The 2009 uprising was initially led by the upper-middle class, with college students, at its core and with Tehran as its center. The December-January protests include a broader swath — the middle class, the underprivileged, workers, students, women, and young people. Just about all Iranian society demonstrated.
The protests appeared to have been caused by President Hassan Rouhani’s leak of a proposed budget in December. It called for decreasing cash subsidies for the poor and raising fuel prices to lower the regime’s debt, caused by its interventions in Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon, the latter of which via Hezbollah, so-called “Party of God.” But the plan also consisted of fees for car registration and an unpopular departure tax, per The Washington Post of Jan. 3.
With the above accounts of the demonstrations in mind, consider the consequences within the Iranian regime. There has been finger-pointing among the power centers — the Supreme Leader (Ali Khamenei) the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and the Majlis or parliament.
The protests have a huge effect on the ruling Ayatollahs. Consider the regime’s Supreme Leader’s website, on Jan. 9.:
1. “The plot was made by Americans…and Zionists. They have been plotting for many months to initiate riots in small cities and eventually move towards the center.”
2. “Money was provided by a wealthy government near the Persian Gulf. [Saudi Arabia] Well, these plots are costly. The Americans are not willing to spend money while such accomplices are already there.”
3. “The third side of the triangle consists of the US submissive henchmen: Mujahedeen-E-Khalq Organization, the murderous MEK,” (the largest unit within the NCRI).
Explanations and effects suggest certain policy options for the Team Trump.
The Way Forward
Regarding the nuclear deal, the president has bought himself time to modify it. If the Trump administration would have simply left, we would stand alone. In addition, on Oct. 17, Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations said, "Iran is now on the verge of controlling a land route running all the way from Tehran to Beirut — the new Persian Empire." In this respect, research for this post suggests President Trump should take the following steps.
First, now that he issued waivers, Secretary Tillerson should negotiate a modified deal with European allies, and National Security Adviser McMaster should do the same on Capitol Hill. Renegotiation could involve specifying triggers in Tehran’s behavior that would allow for snapping back Obama-era sanctions. The triggers would help get around the “Sunset provisions,” which stipulate when various restrictions imposed on Iran’s nuclear program expire, and which critics say provide Iran with a patient pathway to acquiring nuclear weapons, per Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Nuclear and ballistic missile testing above certain levels, as well as lack of access to all suspect sites, including the military ones, might be such triggers to snapback sanctions.
Unrest in Iran has made President Trump more determined to punish the Ayatollahs. The alternative policy to the nuclear deal is containment with a goal of allowing the Iranian people to exercise their right for regime change. “The people of Iran have again showed their displeasure with the regime, and the world should support them,” per the WSJ Editorial Board on Jan. 12. Here is where the leading resistance organization could play a hand.
Second, reach out to the leader of the opposition movement that Tehran takes seriously and has acknowledged its key role in Iran. Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of NCRI, has been the main target of attacks by Iranian regime leaders. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani phoned his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron only five days after the protests started to demand action against this leading Iranian opposition group he accused of fomenting ongoing protests. “We criticize the fact that a terrorist group has a base in France and acts against the Iranian people… and we await action from the French government against this terrorist group,” Rouhani told Macron, referring to Mrs. Rajavi who is based in Paris, per a report on Iranian state television. Figaro reported that Macron responded, “All political opposition [groups] are welcomed in France.” The United States should go even one step further than the French and build a stronger relationship with Rajavi’s movement, whose members make up more than 90 percent of all victims of political executions in Iran by the Iranian regime over the past three decades.
Third, there is a need for an even newer comprehensive strategy for an Iran in turmoil than what Trump announced on Dec. 18, 2017. Key elements included a focus on the Iranian people: It stated Iran is under the control of a fanatical regime that seized power in 1979 and forced a proud people to submit to extremist rule. Trump rolled out his new U.S. strategy toward Iran focused on the country’s destabilizing regional activities, support for terrorist proxies, and proliferation of missiles. Fox News interviewed many protestors via an app they set up to get around the regime’s Internet watchdogs. The protestors called for Iran’s oil exports to be subject to sanctions, the ability of the Tehran regime to access the international banking system to be cut off, as well as other punitive measures.
Moreover, Trump’s Oct. 13, 2017, White House speech rolling out his “Iran Policy Review” did not target Tehran’s human rights record, and hence it failed expose the regime’s intolerable abuses. A related State Department document only discussed topics, such as nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and Iran as a State Sponsor of International Terrorism. For Trump’s national security strategy to make a difference, we have no choice but to incorporate human rights.The announcement on Jan. 12 by the Treasury Department designating key human rights violators of Iran, including the Judiciary Chief Sadegh Larijani, is a step in the right direction, which needs to be followed up with further such designations. The protestors called for Iran’s oil exports to also be subject to sanctions, the ability of the Tehran regime to access the international banking system to be cut off, as well as other punitive measures.
Publishing this post near Martin Luther King’s Day recalls his famous quote, that “The Arc of the Moral Universe Is Long, But It Bends Toward Justice.” Those words would ring even louder, if human rights for the Iranian resistance were combined with the American civil rights movement!
Prof. Raymond Tanter (@AmericanCHR) served as a senior member on the Middle East Desk of the National Security Council staff in the Reagan-Bush administration, Personal Representative of the Secretary of Defense to international security and arms control talks in Europe, and is now Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan. Tanter is on the comprehensive list of conservative writers and columnists who appear in The Wall Street Journal, Townhall.com, National Review, The Weekly Standard, Human Events, The American Spectator, and now in Newsmax. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
Prof. Ivan Sascha Sheehan is director of the graduate programs in Global Affairs and Human Security and Negotiations and Conflict Management in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Baltimore. Follow him on Twitter @ProfSheehan.
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