The trajectory of U.S.-Iran relations has changed dramatically since the election of President Biden in 2020. Initially, there was a consensus that the nuclear deal with Iran would be revived.
But things changed after months of indirect negotiations in Vienna between the U.S. and Iran. Despite the efforts of European Union mediators, what seems to have sealed the ultimate fate of the nuclear agreement is the Iranian government’s brutal crackdown on protestors in major Iranian cities. So what will Iran do in 2023?
The US Feels That the Iran Nuclear Deal Is Dead
In a press briefing on January 3, 2023, Ned Price of the Department of State observed that the actions of the Iranian regime destroyed the chance to work out a nuclear deal, according to Rudaw. He stated, “The Iranians killed the opportunity for a swift return to mutual compliance with the JCPOA. They most recently did so in September when they turned their backs on a deal that was by all accounts essentially finalized, ready to go.”
Price’s statement is not the first time the Biden administration has used this type of language to refer to the nuclear deal. In a video recorded in December 2022, President Biden said that the nuclear deal is “dead,” according to the Times of Israel.
As a result, the sanctions on Iran remain in place and continue to have a detrimental effect on the Iranian economy. But Iran doubled down on its conflict with the U.S. when it became an integral part of the Russian war effort against Ukraine.
[Related article: Iran Protests: Cities Suffering Civil Unrest]
Iran and Russia Have Formed a Partnership
According to The Guardian, Iran has supplied armed Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to Russia central to the Russian war with Ukraine; these drones have been used to attack targets all over Ukraine. They are much cheaper than conventional ground missiles and have become a hallmark of the war in recent months.
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy reports that the Iran-Russia relationship is only growing stronger. Henry Rome, a Senior Fellow at the Institute, noted in a recent report that this Iranian-Russian relationship is a significant threat to world peace, saying: “The recent intensification has both covert and overt components. Tehran has become Moscow’s most important military supplier, with Iranian drones repeatedly being used against Ukrainian cities and energy infrastructure.
“According to Western governments, Tehran has also deployed personnel to Crimea to train Russian soldiers in operating these drones. Both parties have tried to keep this assistance a secret, with Iran denying that it has provided drones during the war (though international pressure did compel it to claim that it had sold such systems to Russia—in 2021).
“The Iranians may also have reached an agreement to manufacture drones in Russia and sell short-range ballistic missiles to its military. Moscow’s compensation to Tehran is less clear at this point.”
Rome Recommends More Sanctions
In his report, Rome made several recommendations. First, the U.S. and the E.U. should publicize the information about the Iranian drones, their abilities and their limitations, which will allow other nations to develop ways limit the drones’ effectiveness in the battlefield. This information will be appreciated by other countries, especially in the Middle East.
Second, the U.S. and the E.U. should impose more economic sanctions on Iran, specifically targeting the imported parts used in drone construction. The growing sanctions will show the Iranian public that their regime is more interested in helping the Russian army than in elevating the Iranian economy.
Additional Executions Are Contributing to Internal Unrest
The regime in Iran has decided to increase the pressure on its people by executing protestors who take part in anti-government demonstrations. According to CNN, Mohammad Mahdi Karami and Seyed Mohammad Hosseini were executed on January 7, 2023, and more protestors have been sentenced to death.
The BBC says that many more people have died since the demonstrations began in mid-2022. The Human Rights Activists’ News Agency (HRANA) notes that as of January 8, 2023:
- 519 protesters and 68 security personnel have been killed
- 19,291 protesters were arrested
- 111 protestors are estimated to be “under the impending threat of a death sentence”
- 163 cities are involved in the protests
The hardline tactics used by the Iranian government has brought down the number of protests and the number of participants. However, this accomplishment might be very limited and short- lived.
As Saeid Golkar of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga observed to Reuters, the government crackdown “has been relatively successful since the number of people on the streets has decreased… However, it has created a massive resentment among Iranians.”
The Road Forward for Iran in 2023
With the expectation of more external sanctions on Iran and more complex forms of civil unrest, the next months will reveal if the protests have started a larger movement among the youth of Iran. Iran’s crippled economy and the limits it has imposed on civil liberties will likely create more civil unrest, but perhaps this time will be different.
We are left to wonder if actors outside Iran could help opposition forces within Iran. Saudi Arabia is interested in assisting the millions of Sunni Muslims marginalized by the Shiite regime within Iran. The U.S. and the E.U. could also render assistance to the many factions within Iran that have suffered from the heavy hand of the regime for many decades.
It seems that Iran has chosen a path of force, internally against its own citizens and externally in its relationship with the West and other regional powers. Iran’s ailing and aging supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will not be changing his tune any time soon. But perhaps the next leader of Iran will choose a more reconciliatory path.
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