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What are the prospects for change in Iran?

While the final weeks of Trump’s hold on the White House are fraught with danger, the prospect of a new administration in the United States holds the possibility of drawing back from the brink in the face-off with Iran, writes JANE GREEN

THE Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — widely known as the Iran nuclear deal — agreed between the Western powers, including the United States, and the Islamic Republic of Iran in 2015 was one of the first foreign policy casualties of the Trump presidency.  

Since the United States’ withdrawal from the JCPOA in May 2018, a period of exacerbated uncertainty has existed in relations between the two countries and across the Middle East.    

The foreign policy legacy of the Trump administration with regard to Iran will be one of intransigence, tighter economic sanctions and the further impoverishment of the Iranian people.  

If the next two months can be successfully navigated, it may just avoid military conflict.

The United States has used the demonisation of the Islamic Republic as cover for changing the balance of forces in the Middle East, in particular the negotiation of agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to recognise and trade with Israel.  

At a stroke Trump has blown apart the fragile alliance of Arab states supporting the rights of Palestinians to self-determination, in opposition to the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.

The prospect of normalising relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, already united in their opposition to the spread of Iranian influence in the region, cannot be far away and with it the possibility of military action against Iran may remain on the agenda.  

The continuation of a Trump presidency would almost certainly bring that outcome a little closer.

However, the Biden/Harris ticket, while remaining unwavering in US foreign policy terms in its support for Israel, is unlikely to be quite as hostile towards Iran.  

As vice-president to Barack Obama, Biden was part of the administration which orchestrated the Iran nuclear deal and is unlikely to view it in terms as hostile as Donald Trump.

While Iran has moved away from the terms of the deal following the US unilateral withdrawal, the position is not irretrievable.  

Britain and the EU have, on paper at least, remained committed to the deal and, if nothing else, would like to exploit the economic opportunities which the Iranian market offers.  

While there will be some limitations on how far Biden can roll back the far-right neocon agenda which Trump has initiated, foreign policy is one of the areas where the presidency offers a greater degree of latitude, even with a potentially hostile Senate.

The ongoing struggle to control the Covid-19 virus will also be a major priority for a Biden administration.  

With the US still the world leader in the death count from the disease, Biden is unlikely to want to risk body bags returning from an unnecessary conflict in the Middle East.  

The regime in Iran may be many things, but it would not be a pushover militarily.

For the people of Iran the situation remains bleak and widespread protests against economic mismanagement and corruption in the regime continue.  

The tightening of economic sanctions by the Trump administration has only served to make what was already a bad situation for the Iranian people even worse.  

The inability to trade major commodities, oil in particular, has plunged the economy into near hyperinflation with the associated redundancies, job insecurity and impoverishment which inevitably follows.

This month marks the first anniversary of the latest wave of demonstrations which kicked off in November 2019 in opposition to the three-fold increase in petrol prices introduced overnight on November 15. 

Those protests spread to more than 100 cities across Iran. The regime’s security forces lost control in a number of places due to the huge number of protesters. 

The security forces used live fire and the military issued live ammunition. 

At least 600 people were killed and thousands were arrested. Some of the arrested protesters have been tried and sentenced to execution.

The continued public protest and strike wave across the country have contributed significantly to the undermining of legitimacy for the regime. 

This was exacerbated by parliamentary elections on February 21 where the regime made huge efforts to increase the poll turnout, only to find fewer people voted than at any time in the history of the Islamic Republic. 

The regime was pushing for a high turnout to underline its relevance and popularity.  

It even went so far as to keep secret the fact that the coronavirus pandemic had spread to the country and was killing the population in two provinces. 

This criminal action by the regime, just for the sake of the turnout in the election, meant that the pandemic spread rapidly across the nation with Iran becoming the epicentre in the region. 

Official figures for Covid-19 associated deaths currently stand at 43,000 though opposition sources suggest that the real figure is 2.5 times higher than this. 

The economic crisis is also affecting the capacity of the regime in Iran to continue its extraterritorial military activities in the Middle East (especially in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon) and, with it, the financial and moral influence to continue under the banner of “exporting Islamic revolution.”

There are reports that the Russian government is not content that the Iranian Islamist regime continues to maintain a military presence in Syria. 

Since 2011, the regime has annually spent between $5 billion and $11bn in Syria in pursuit of its strategic plans. 

Russia envisages a different future model for Syria from that of the theocratic regime in Iran.

The progress of the much debated 25-year strategic agreement between Iran and China is also likely to be affected by other regional influences with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently proposing the formation of a forum in the Middle East to foster multilateral engagements with the “equal participation of all stakeholders.” 

The position of the Iranian people continues to be that of being squeezed between the incompetence of the government inside the country and the threat of economic and military actions from those outside the country, seeking to determine Iran’s future direction.
 
That future direction is one which should be in the hands of the Iranian people themselves.  

Increasingly the voice of the opposition in Iran is being heard. Continued solidarity from the labour and trade union movement internationally remains a vital element of support for the people of Iran.  

The Committee for the Defence of the Iranian People’s Rights (Codir) will redouble its efforts to generate support as well as putting pressure upon the European governments press Iran on its human rights record.  

The long-suffering people of Iran deserve no less.

Jane Green is a member of Codir’s national executive council. For more information please visit www.codir.net.

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