By Ilan Fuchs, Ph.D.
Faculty Member, Legal Studies
The recent months have been difficult for Tehran. Nuclear talks have stalled, and economic sanctions in Iran have brought civil unrest and mass demonstrations to the streets of major cities.
There are also changing geopolitical currents in the Middle East. Consequently, there is much for Iran to lose, and the vitriol so popular in Iranian political discourse might hide some significant insecurities rather than self-confidence.
The Nuclear Deal Talks
The Council on Foreign Relations noted recently: “Reports of progress left many observers expecting a deal in early 2022, but talks halted again after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine complicated the discussions. Tehran and Washington still disagree on several issues, including the IRGC’s designation as a terrorist organization. U.S. officials have warned against further delays, saying that if Iran continues to make nuclear advances, that could make returning to the original deal impossible.”
The refusal of the U.S. to declassify the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist group has created a stalemate and put the ball back in the court of the ruling clerics in Tehran. The White House made clear that it will not budge on this point, and the long-time involvement of the IRGC in terrorist activities – including plots against U.S. targets – will not be forgotten.
The European Union has made several attempts to restart the nuclear talks and sent Enrique Mora, the senior EU official coordinating the nuclear talks, to Tehran. During his visit, Mora had talks with various Iranian officials.
Politico reported that Mora’s visit to Tehran had “gone better than expected,” according to Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, and that the stalled talks had been reopened. Politico also noted that “A spokesperson of the Iranian Foreign Ministry on Monday said the ‘meetings in Tehran have set the right course and were moving forward.’”
Economic Crisis and Civil Unrest in Iran
Economic sanctions on Iran coupled with an internal economic crisis as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic have caused the Iranian economy to collapse. In addition, social media is filled with pictures of demonstrators all over Iran, who blame Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi for their economic woes.
With inflation rising in Iran, the price of basic items has skyrocketed. Iranian forces have shot at demonstrators and killed one person, according to The Guardian. Iranian opposition groups have also released videos showing the regime’s forces attacking civilians and protesters chanting “Death to Khamenei!” and “Death to Raisi!”
The Changes in the Middle East’s Geopolitical Environment
The recent months have shown some regional changes that have altered the situation for Iran. After President Biden took office, there was optimism in Tehran and the Gulf States that the nuclear talks could move forward, but national leaders like Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have not shown confidence in Iran.
For example, there have been tension in Iraq and Syria between Iranian and Turkish proxy forces. The recent visit of Israeli President Isaac Hertzog to Turkey made it clear that in addition to Israel, Turkey and other Sunni states are not interested in a nuclear Iran.
As the Brookings Institute reported, “Turkey and Israel traditionally viewed geopolitical trends and developments in the Middle East region in a similar way, both attaching great importance to stability in Syria, believing Iran should not have nuclear weapons, and prioritizing the fight against terror. Interestingly, in the current Russia-Ukraine crisis, both Turkey and Israel have chosen a certain form of neutrality.”
A Nuclear Iran and Other Countries
An Iran with nuclear capabilities will destabilize the Middle East and make oil-producing countries very worried. With high inflation and a stock market that is losing momentum, a spike in energy prices could bring about a worldwide recession.
This situation is complicated, but there are pressure points as far as Iran is concerned. The civil unrest and the abysmal economic problems in Iran can show Tehran that it is playing a dangerous game.
Russian difficulties in Ukraine shows Iran that its dreams of the demise of American hegemony are premature. Also, the situation in Syria might prove complicated with less Russian interest in the region and continued Turkish and U.S. support of anti-regime forces.
The recent loss of power for Hezbollah in Lebanon shows that even in their stronghold, the political and economic situations are not as simple as they used to be. The broad support that Iran has enjoyed is now in the past, even within Shiite communities in the Arab world.
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