Protests, weapons for Russia and the nuclear deal

What lies ahead for Iran and its overseas activities will have significant consequences not only for millions of Iranians but also for Ukraine, Russia, much of the Middle East and its foreign policy. Western governments.

Reuters | Wana News Agency

It has been a tumultuous year for Iran.

A year that some hoped would see a resurgence of the Iran nuclear deal and successful foreign policy with the West, instead seeing Iran deepen its ties with Russia and clamp down on a popular protest movement led by women.

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What lies ahead for the country and its overseas activities will have significant consequences not only for millions of Iranians but also for Ukraine, Russia, much of the Middle East and its foreign policy. Western governments.

The Biden administration has gone from encouraging talks on reinstating the Iran nuclear deal to imposing more sanctions on Tehran and condemning it for provides lethal weapons and training to Russian forces fighting in Ukraine. Iran’s Foreign Ministry denies knowing about Iran’s arms transfers to Russia, despite evidence of Iranian-made drones wreaking havoc on Ukrainian cities.

And this country of 85 million people is in the midst of a protest movement described as the biggest challenge to the government of the Islamic Republic in decades. Meanwhile, its economy is growing in a spiral and currently enriching uranium to the highest level ever – which means that Iran has never been closer to being able to make a nuclear bomb.

John Drennan of the American Institute for Peace said that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi greeted Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 19, 2022. Putin may want to show that Moscow remains important in the Middle East by visiting Iran.

Sergei Savosyanov | AFP | beautiful pictures

“The year 2023 will be a pivotal year for Iran,” Ali Vaez, Iran project manager at the nonprofit Crisis Group, told CNBC. “The economy is struggling like never before; society is more disgruntled than ever; and the country is more isolated than ever.”

“The Islamic Republic is where the Soviet Union was in the early 1980s, not the late 1980s,” says Vaez. “It’s a regime that’s ideologically bankrupt, economically broken, and politically crippled.”

“However,” he added, “it still has the will to fight.”

Nuclear deal: gone too far?

In 2021, the head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog, Rafael Grossi, told reporters that “only bomb-making countries” enrich uranium to the level of Iran is 60% — that’s just one technical step above the weapon grade, which is 90% purity.

Under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal – which involved the United States and other powers and lifted economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbing its nuclear program – the extent of Iran’s uranium enrichment is limited to 3.67%, enough for a civilian nuclear energy program.

A photo taken on November 10, 2019, shows an Iranian flag in Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant, during an official start-up ceremony for the second reactor at the facility.

ATTA KENARE | AFP via Getty Images

Henry Rome, a senior fellow at Washington’s Institute for Near East Policy, said: “The prospects for a revival of the JCPOA are very dim in 2023,” referring to the agreement by its official acronym. , stands for Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Instead of canceling it outright in response to Iran’s apparent support for Russia and its brutal crackdown on protesters, the ‘extended and pretentious’ attitude towards the nuclear deal has may continue for a while,” Rome added. Negotiations have been stalled since September.

The Trump administration pulled the US out of the deal in 2018, reimposed severe sanctions on Iran, which both damaged the country’s economy and spurred the government to step up development. nuclear development. And the prospect of the Biden administration restoring the accord is rapidly diminishing.

Furthermore, time is running out to salvage anything – the key nuclear restrictions in the deal are due to expire at the end of 2023 when the “sunset terms” are set.

Reviving Iran nuclear deal will not be 'silver bullet', senior member says

Ryan Bohl, senior Middle East and North Africa analyst at Rane, said: “The JCPOA will practically become obsolete by 2023. And, he adds, “neither Europe nor the United States want to relax. loosening sanctions on a regime that actively suppresses protesters.”

Some analysts say negotiators may have to start from scratch and that the Western signatories to the deal will likely want to see a resolution to the protest movement first.

Meanwhile, the West is announcing new sanctions while Iran continues to push ahead with its nuclear development, creating a widening gap between the two sides.

What’s next for Iran’s protest movement?

The nationwide protests that began in mid-September and quickly spread to many cities across Iran were sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, an Iranian-Kurdish woman who died while being attacked. in police custody after being arrested for allegedly violating Iran’s strict hijab rules. The unrest flared up into a full-blown movement demanding the removal of the Islamic Republic, Iran’s hardline theocratic government.

But after nearly four months and a bloody campaign of repression and executions by the state, the question remains: How long will the protests last?

A protester holds a portrait of Mahsa Amini during a rally in support of Amini, a young Iranian woman who died after being arrested by the Islamic Republic’s moral police in Tehran, on Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul on September 20, 2022.

Ozan Kose | AFP | beautiful pictures

Behnam Ben Taleblu, senior member of the Foundation for Defense of Democracy, said: “The four forces to watch out for in 2023 about the protests in Iran are the streets, strikes, sanctions and security forces. “. He predicts prolonged protests into 2023 against the Islamic Republic, even though the government has the overwhelming advantage of using force.

“The regime retains all tools of repression and will increase its use of them,” he said, but added that the Iranians’ demand for political change inevitably means more domestic instability.

Most Iran analysts interviewed by CNBC expect the protests to continue in some form, but projections of their intensity and effectiveness vary.

While protests can still come out of nowhere, “protesters have yet to muster large, sustained support in key economic sectors or attract defections from government agencies.” security,” Rome noted.

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For Rane’s Ryan Bohl, the most likely outcome is that the protests “end up being suppressed and dissipated.” The second result, he said, is that the movement is institutionalized, turning into a viable opposition movement that can receive concessions from the regime.

The third and “least likely” outcome – but still not impossible – for the next year is an “escalating protest movement that includes other parts of Iranian society and causes division.” in the regime could really threaten its very existence,” Bohl said.

Weapons for Russia

Ukraine accuses Iran of supplying Russia with drones to attack Kiev.

Pictures of Sopa | Missile | beautiful pictures

However, “it looks like there will be more drones and missiles as well as technical cooperation on military issues,” Bohl said, in addition to deeper commercial links to create a “The trade network proves sanctions”.

That will lead to diplomatic costs Tehran seems willing to accept, though it’s not clear what it will get — cash, weapons, technology, or a combination of those.

Either way, “Iran will likely continue to play hard into 2023,” Ben Taleblu said, adding, “I fully expect Russia and Iran to continue to deepen their security, political and economic ties. economy by 2023.”

“The political elites increasingly take on risks that may feel unstoppable abroad as they face challenges at home,” he said. “If Iran were to disseminate ballistic missiles and not just drones to Russia for use in Ukraine, that would be more proof of this perception.”


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