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Q&A: Trump’s end goal with Iran is regime change
January 31, 2018, 4:18 pm

The European Union says it is committed to the nuclear deal with Iran even if the US isn’t. In this file photo, Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif, left, and EU Foreign Affairs High Representative Federica Mogherini met in Vienna, Austria during negotiations over the agreement[Xinhua Archive]

The BRICS Post interviewed Holly Dagres, an Iranian-American analyst on Middle East affairs, about US Donald Trump’s pressure on Iran to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear agreement as well as the recent street protests there.

Dagres is the curator of the weekly newsletter, The Iranist.

TBP: There was much fanfare in the media about the protests in Iran in the past weeks, with some hoping they could lead to the downfall of the Mullahs. But that always looked unlikely. Is it nonetheless a wake-up call for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani that economic reforms are essential?

Dagres: We have to delve deeper into the Iran protests. While the protests were about the economy, corruption, and voicing discontent against the Iranian government, there was a lot of in-fighting that didn’t make headline news.

The protests commenced in the holy city of Mashhad, the home of the hardliner presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi who lost the election to incumbent Hassan Rouhani in May 2017. Raisi’s faction, the hardliners, started the protests on December 28 to undermine Rouhani’s presidency.

What they didn’t realize is that the controlled burn would spread like a wildfire to cities and provincial towns we haven’t heard from since the 1979 revolution.

The protests were a wake-up call to the state of affairs amongst the working class, who were marginalized and forgotten for decades.

Are the authorities doing anything now to alleviate economic hardships and respond to the demands of protesters?

There have been several meetings about the Iranian government’s budget. Similarly, the Rouhani administration is discussing the possibility of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard selling off its business holdings and commercial assets that are “irrelevant” to their main function.

This has been on Rouhani’s agenda since 2013 and though it hasn’t happened yet, the fact that it’s part of the public debate is a big deal.

What’s the economic situation now that two years have passed since the nuclear deal signed in Vienna and slightly less time since sanctions removed?

Holly Dagres is an Iranian-American Middle East analyst

Since Hassan Rouhani took office in 2013, he has been running an austerity budget.

Inflation was up at 40 per cent at the time, and has now dropped to 10 per cent.

According to the IMF, Iran is expected to have a GDP growth of four per cent this year.

In addition, Iran finally met its pre-sanctions oil sales.

While there has been some economic improvement after the Iran Deal, a lot of the changes didn’t trickle down to the average Iranian. This is for a number of reasons. Iran had been under sanctions and economic isolation for decades, and changes weren’t going to happen overnight.

It didn’t help that when Donald Trump took office a year ago, his constant attempts to undermine the nuclear agreement made European companies hesitant to invest or do trade with Tehran.

In addition, former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s economic programs really hurt the Iranian economy, and some argue it is because of them that Iranians are suffering right now. There are many angles.

A number of social media enthusiasts have uncovered fake reporting using fake images in an attempt to make the Iran protests look far bigger, and far more dangerous. In one such case, a protest (in Arabic) in Bahrain years ago was depicted as Iranian. Who is behind these fake news campaigns?

It’s really unclear who exactly is behind these fake news campaigns, but one thing is certain: they have an agenda that doesn’t approve of the Iranian government.

This is the case with some of the accounts associated with the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) rebel group and monarchists (supporters of the toppled Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi), they are pushing for regime change by any means possible – even if it means posting fake news.

It’s worth noticing that some of the accounts putting fake news are actually accounts trolling Trump supporters and Islamophobes. For example, one account pretending to be Wikileak’s Julian Assange claimed Iranians were going to the street to protest the Clinton Foundation, and Trump supporters were ReTweeting it and thanking him – even though it was actually satire.

I’d like to note that whenever there’s a big news story, fake news is bound to pop up. We saw it in the case of Egypt’s January 25th revolution and the 2013 popularly backed coup d’état.

Add to this that Khamenei blamed Iran’s enemies for the protests. Is there some truth to what he is saying?

The protesters had very real and legate grievances with the economy, corruption, and Islamic Republic itself. At the same time, the Iran protests have been an opportunity for external opposition groups like the National Council of Resistance of Iran – better known as the MEK – as well as the ousted Pahlavi family to manipulate the narrative about what was happening on the ground.

While these groups are different, they both very much advocate for the same thing: regime change. And having seen the crackdown and heard various chants, they seized the opportunity to make it a story about what they call “support” of the protesters.

What we need to acknowledge is that this about the Iranian people, and not those of us watching from the sidelines, abroad.

The Sunni Arab powers in the Middle East are spending more funds than ever to rally support against Iran whether it be in the region or in the halls of the US Congress. At the same time we’re seeing Donald Trump ratchet up the rhetoric to withdraw from the nuclear deal. How is Iran dealing with all of this? Does it see itself under siege?

Tehran saw itself under threat since the 1979 revolution. It started with the Iran-Iraq War and Washington’s backing of Saddam Hussein, and has continued ever since.

It’s this constant sense of siege—especially after the US invaded Tehran’s neighbors Afghanistan and Iraq – in addition to calls for regime change over the decades, that has partly caused Iran to take a defense stance and back Bashar Al-Assad in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Palestinian groups, and share modest ties to Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Now with this new Sunni Arab bloc lead by Saudi Arabia and supported by the Trump administration, it gives Tehran all the reason more to continue backing these groups.

Donald Trump’s talk of regime change and undermining the nuclear deal is very much in line with what hardliners have said all along: that Washington cannot be trusted.

The US and Iran have been at loggerheads, often rivals in the Middle East, since 1979. That’s nearly 40 years. Does anyone on either side expect an improvement in their relationship?

There was a window of opportunity while President Barack Obama was in office. This was demonstrated by the direct phone call between US President Barack Obama and his Iranian counterpart Rouhani in 2013, the bilateral discussions between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and of course the nuclear deal itself.

Since taking office last year, the Trump administration has made it loud and clear that their end goal with Tehran is regime change.

The BRICS Post

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