The regime is caught between a rock and a hard place. The very things that it needs for its material survival are the same things that threaten its ideological survival.
On one hand, Iran is facing serious economic pressures that provide it with an obvious incentive to complete a deal and thus secure relief from U.S.-led sanctions. Despite its best efforts, the regime has been unable to deny that those pressures exist.
The regime’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has touted a so-called “resistance economy” that he hopes would make Iran virtually immune to sanctions. Suppressive entities like the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have dutifully followed that line by making bold statements about how impervious Iran is to pressure from the West.
But the language is equally consistent among independent economic analysts: U.S.-led sanctions have “crippled” the Iranian economy. Even Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in January that the nation cannot make meaningful economic progress until Western sanctions are broken.
The only way to accomplish this is by striking a deal with the West at the nuclear negotiating table.
On the other hand, Iran’s ideological and budgetary priorities make this an extremely difficult proposition. Despite the simultaneous pressures of ongoing sanctions and severely depressed oil prices, some of the most important projects for Tehran include spreading its influence among foreign countries, competing against Western interests in the region, and holding onto power via the same human rights abuses and suppressive policies that have made it a pariah within the civilized world.
The IRGC constitutes a prominent portion of Iran’s security forces while wielding considerable power over the country’s political, industrial and financial architecture. Beyond Iran’s borders, the IRGC controls the expeditionary Quds Force and directs Hezbollah and other Shiite militias, all of which have taken control over the fights against more moderate rebels in Iraq and Syria.
The IRGC is the source of some of the most aggressively anti-Western rhetoric coming out of Iran on a weekly basis. Its commanders and affiliates have very recently boasted of expanded missile stockpiles, drone technology, and other weapons systems.
And they have explicitly claimed to be prepared for war and capable of sinking U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf.
While oil revenues in Iran have decreased by at least 45 percent, with some estimates saying that the country is losing $1 billion per month, the budget for the IRGC is slated to increase by one third.
This extraordinary commitment to the most hardline elements of the Iranian regime belies the notion that the Obama administration has been dealing with a more moderate, friendly and rational Islamic Republic.
If that notion had a hint of truth to it, the Rouhani government would have stood up against ongoing efforts to expand IRGC power.
The economic strain of reduced oil prices should have given it the perfect justification to do so. But instead, the regime’s budget projections went out of their way to inflate the expected oil prices in order to sign off on spending increases.
Clearly, Tehran will only consider setting back its program if it faces more pressure, such as the new sanctions legislation currently being considered by Congress. We certainly hope that Virginia’s senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, would support that initiative.
The Obama administration has thus far stood in the way of that legislation, thinking its consequences would create a lose-lose situation — prompting Iran to walk away from negotiations and encouraging the world to blame the U.S. for that failure.
Its current budget shows just how unlikely it is that Iran will make a logical decision unless it is forced to do so. At the same time, Western policymakers should realize they are in a unique position to force that decision. And for the Obama administration, it may require as little as signing a bill that is already regarded as such obviously correct policy that Congress may be able to secure the very rare bipartisan support that would override a presidential veto.
Iran Briefing | News Press Focus on Human Rights Violation by IRGC, Iran Human Rights
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