Iran General NewsThe West Must Take Iran’s Domestic Situation Into Account

The West Must Take Iran’s Domestic Situation Into Account

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As negotiations over the future of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resume in Vienna, the Western parties to that deal are in danger of reneging on their earlier promises that the talks could not continue indefinitely.

After the negotiations resumed in November following five months of delays by the new Iranian administration, several American and European officials set late January or early February as an unofficial deadline for their Iranian counterparts to accept a compromise that trades immediate restrictions on their nuclear program for relief from US sanctions. Instead, Tehran has only hardened its posture, demanding all sanctions relief upfront, along with impossible guarantees that no future administration will be able to walk away from it as US President Donald Trump did in 2018.

Now that we have reached the unofficial deadline, there is still little sign of progress in the nuclear talks. Virtually all negotiating parties have attempted to preserve an air of optimism, but the Americans and Europeans have also been compelled to repeat that the window is closing and that major differences persist between the two sides. For their part, the Iranians have said much the same thing, and hardline Ebrahim Raisi continues to mechanically repeat that a deal is possible only if the US makes the “political decision” to suspend sanctions without precondition.

This situation has persisted for so long that it would be plain foolish to suppose that there could be a breakthrough in the time it takes for “early February” to come to an end. This is all the more apparent because the US and its allies have shown no real commitment to exerting serious pressure on the Iranian regime, which might compel Tehran to drop its ultimatums and accept an agreement.

Now, with the unofficial deadline already expiring, there is new speculation about the possibility of direct talks between Tehran and Washington. But given the current state of indirect negotiations, there can be little doubt that the Iranian regime would spin such a meeting as evidence that the US is succumbing to Iranian pressure, instead of the other way around. This is not a narrative that Washington can afford to passively accept, least of all at a time when it is so vital for the mullahs to project an image of strength, both at home and abroad.

Domestically, that image has waned and would continue to do so if the US and its allies stood their ground in the nuclear talks and demanded concessions on penalty of a dramatic increase in economic, diplomatic, and possibly even military pressure. Such pressure, or even the mere threat of the same, would go a long way toward emboldening an Iranian Resistance movement that has been gaining momentum in its efforts to overthrow the regime for at least as long as the current disputes over the nuclear deal have been going on.

In January 2018, several months before Trump pulled the US out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran was rocked by a nationwide uprising that popularized explicit calls for regime change in more than 100 cities and towns. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei soon acknowledged that the protests had been facilitated by an organized opposition movement under the banner of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, which Iranian state media had long sought to dismiss as a cult-like group without the strength or popular support to challenge the mullahs’ hold on power.

The uprising eventually contracted in the wake of dozens of killings and thousands of arrests, but it inspired a series of interconnected protests that the NCRI’s President-elect Maryam Rajavi referred to as a “year full of uprisings.” This in turn set the stage for another, even larger nationwide uprising in November 2019, which featured now-familiar slogans like “death to the dictator” being repeated across nearly 200 localities. Since then, unrest has been ongoing among at least some of those localities, and the regime’s internal warnings about the social influence of the MEK have never ceased.

Moreover, Iranian teachers have been holding simultaneous protests in 125 cities for several days, calling attention not only to their poverty-level salaries but also to the regime’s repressive response to this and other protest movements. At least four teacher activists were arrested on Monday, while earlier in January the Secretary-General of the Iranian Teachers Trade Association was sentenced to six months in prison.

None of this has slowed down the pace of activism, which is certainly unsurprising because 1,500 peaceful protesters were killed during the November 2019 uprising, only for new protests to break out in more than a dozen provinces just two months later. In fact, within the broader activist community, gestures of defiance have only continued to grow bolder.

At the start of January 5, a statue of the notorious commander of the terrorist Qods Force Qassem Soleimani was set on fire a few hours after it was unveiled to mark the second anniversary of his elimination. And on January 27, 27 state-controlled radio and television channels were disrupted, with the images of Maryam and Massoud Rajavi, and video clips of the latter speaking broadcast.

The fact is that the clerics are keenly aware of their vulnerability in the face of an increasingly disenchanted and furious population. Under such circumstances, Western countries must refrain from throwing the regime another lifeline and instead stand with the Iranian people as they struggle for liberty.

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