Iran regime has become its own worst enemy
It has long been evident that the Iranian regime is desperate for the revival of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal. This is due to the regime’s financial hardship and the significant pressure it is facing inside the country.
After the former Trump administration began imposing pressure on the Iranian regime following its withdrawal from the JCPOA in 2018, the mullahs faced two major uprisings at home. Iran’s regime is now bankrupt both politically and economically and with a sham presidential election — in which candidates are vetted and approved by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s Guardian Council — scheduled for June 18.
In addition, the regime has been finding it extremely difficult to maintain funding for its militias and forces both inside and outside Iran. That is why, for the first time in more than three decades, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy designated as a terrorist organization by the US, the UK, Germany, the Arab League and Israel, among other countries, in 2019 made a public statement asking people to donate money to his group.
Furthermore, Iran’s currency, the rial, lost more than half its value in 2020 — a decline that makes it one of the world’s least-valuable currencies. On Thursday, the rial traded on unofficial markets at 240,500 to the US dollar. The ruling mullahs are also facing one of the worst budget deficits in the four decades since they seized power, estimated to be as much as $200 million per week. This deficit will increase inflation and devalue the currency even further.
Therefore, all these developments point to the fact that the regime badly needs the nuclear deal, as it would lift the primary and secondary US sanctions on Iran’s energy, banking and oil sectors. With a return to the deal, the Tehran regime would see billions of dollars flow into its treasury, as trade with the EU and Western investment in the country would also increase.
Even Khamenei on Wednesday acknowledged for the first time that Tehran needs an agreement. During an address marking the first day of Ramadan in Iran, he said: “The talks shouldn’t become talks of attrition. They shouldn’t be in a way that parties drag on and prolong the talks. This is harmful to the country.”
Tehran did not choose the easy path — instead it cranked up its threats and nuclear extortion.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
To achieve its objective of reviving the nuclear deal and subsequently having sanctions lifted, all that the Iranian leaders needed to do was take the first step and return to the nuclear deal’s commitments. If the Iranian authorities had done so as soon as Joe Biden became US president, the JCPOA would have been alive now and the theocratic establishment would have been prospering economically and politically.
But the regime did not choose the easy path. Instead it cranked up its threats and nuclear extortion. First, it escalated its breaches of the JCPOA, with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirming in January: “Iran has informed the agency that in order to comply with a legal act recently passed by the country’s parliament, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran intends to produce low-enriched uranium up to 20 percent at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant.” Now, at another underground facility, Iran is preparing to enrich uranium to 60 percent purity. The Iranian parliament also passed a law requiring the government to expel the IAEA nuclear inspectors.
On top of that, the regime is insisting that the US must take the first step, not Tehran — making it a chicken and egg situation. As Khamenei reportedly said on Wednesday: “We have already declared Iran’s policy. Sanctions must be removed first. Once we are certain that has been done, we will carry out our commitments.”
If the Iranian regime were to act rationally, it would realize that it does not matter who takes the first step. In fact, the most informed policy for the regime would be to get the sanctions immediately lifted by taking the first step itself.
In other words, Tehran would be the winner if it were to take the first step in the negotiations and return to its commitments under the nuclear deal. But, as history shows us, the Islamic Republic is not a rational state actor; it is a revolutionary one. The only modus operandi this regime is familiar with is resorting to extortion, threats, hard power and other tough tactics.
With its reluctance to prioritize diplomacy — and its resistance toward taking the first step when it comes to returning to the nuclear deal — the Iranian regime has become its own worst enemy.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh