IranSource | Understanding and Analyzing a Multifaceted Iran

The re-imposition of US sanctions since President Donald Trump abandoned the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May 2018 has had a devastating effect on the Iranian economy and has especially impacted the lives of those who struggle to provide medicine for themselves and their families. 

Medicine is supposed to be exempt from the sanctions. Yet Europeans companies and banks have refused to participate in financial transactions involving pharmaceuticals out of fear of US secondary sanctions.

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The United States has over the past four decades imposed a wide range of economic sanctions to punish Iran for a number of undesired policies. While Trump administration officials continue to insist that food and medicine are exempt from US sanctions, and that sanctions do not hurt the Iranian people, evidence suggests that unilateral sanctions are collectively punishing the Iranian population by denying them adequate and reliable access to medicine. 

The US has nominally exempted humanitarian goods from its economic sanctions. However, limitations on trade, the unwillingness of financial institutions to process transactions related to Iran, as well as the Iranian government’s misguided policies, have resulted in staggering prices and shortages of medicine. Compounded together, these issues have made medicine less affordable and accessible to many Iranians who are already experiencing other impacts of sanctions such as unemployment

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Before the Trump administration decided to target Tehran’s oil exports, Iran and India experienced a positive trend in relations.

India was Iran’s second largest oil customer, importing 457,000 barrels of oil a day before the US withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May 2018. Last November, India was one of eight countries that received a six-month waiver to continue importing Iranian oil; it bought 300,000 barrels per day during this period. In April, however, the Trump administration did not renew the waivers. India announced on May 24 that it would abide by US sanctions and stop all such imports.

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Current tensions in the Persian Gulf are undoubtedly disturbing. Even if war is averted, the region faces a number of negative consequences, including lower investment and tourism as well as rising economic distress in an atmosphere of crisis and uncertainty.

However, every conflict also has its beneficiaries. In the case of the US and Iran, the clearest winner is Russia. 

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When rogue intelligence officers at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018, an official of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) voiced concern over the surge of US media onslaught on Saudi Arabia. Echoing Iran’s conspiratorial views of the United States, the IRGC official questioned if Washington was planning to undermine Riyadh. He then insisted that Tehran would denounce such moves. 

Iran is charged with interfering in Saudi Arabia’s internal affairs, but Tehran appears to want Riyadh to keep a firm hold on power. The rapid deterioration of regional security has muted Iran’s desire to watch rival Arab states collapse. There is a realization that the potential rise of jihadists in Saudi Arabia, if the kingdom were to fall, could also destabilize Iran. In a similar vein, in Riyadh—per conversations this author has had—there is concern that the kingdom would have to pay a heavy price if a war erupted with Iran. 

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May 8 was the first anniversary of US President Donald Trump’s exit from the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The Islamic Republic marked the occasion by announcing that it would defy the JCPOA’s limits on the amounts of enriched uranium and heavy water in its inventory. 

Iranian President Rouhani issued an ultimatum to the European signatories of the JCPOA to assist Tehran with exporting its oil and normalizing its access to the global banking system within sixty days, or else Iran would take further actions. On the same day, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said that Tehran could dismiss the enriched uranium limit “whenever we wish, and would do the enrichment at any volume and level.”

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced on May 8 that Iran may reduce its compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) if the non-US parties to the deal don’t find a way to provide Tehran with promised economic benefits.

In response, the European Union and foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany expressed their continued support for the JCPOA but warned Iran not to carry out its ultimatum to disregard selected limitations to its nuclear program.

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While growing US-led pressure on Iran is helping unify the Iranian polity around the flag of nationalism, it is also exposing fault lines among the ruling elite as they search for the key causes of the Islamic Republic’s failures forty years after its birth. 

In a rare hour-long interview on May 1, the former head of Iran’s state broadcaster Mohammad Sarafraz spoke publicly about his time at the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). He was appointed director general of IRIB by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 2014, after serving as the head of its 24-hour English-language network PressTV for several years, until he was prematurely replaced in 2016. Sarafraz’s short-lived tenure at IRIB contrasts sharply with that of his predecessor who directed the state broadcaster for a decade.

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A year after the United States withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and six months after it re-imposed sanctions, Iran has said it would reduce its compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement in sixty days unless the remaining parties take concrete steps to continue trade with Iran. The decision was announced by President Hassan Rouhani in a televised speech on May 8. Rouhani said, “We felt that the nuclear deal needs a surgery and the painkiller pills of the last year have been ineffective … This surgery is for saving the deal, not destroying it.”

The Iranian president warned that Europe has sixty days to prevent US sanctions from impacting Iran’s banking and oil sectors. The news was formally relayed to the remaining signatories of JCPOA: Britain, China, France, Russia, and Germany. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif confirmed the news in a tweet: “On May 8 2018, US withdrew from #JCPOA, violated #UNSCR 2231 & pressured others—incl[uding] #E3—to do the same after a year of patience, Iran stops measures that US has made impossible to continue Our action is within the terms of JCPOA. EU/E3+2 has a narrowing window to reverse this.”

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In Iran, public opinion about foreign policy has become extremely divided. Even recent flooding provided ground for opposing parties to promote their stances, especially in regard to Iran’s backing of foreign militias in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. 

A video went viral of a local man approaching the governor of Iran’s southern Khuzestan province amid the flooding and asking him why the government spends lavishly on the Syrian and Lebanese people but not on its own. US and Israeli officials—as well as the Iranian opposition in exile—also saw an opportunity to ride the waves of Iranians discontented with their current dire economic situation. 

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