MOSCOW (Sputnik) — New US sanctions on Tehran, such as the recent unilateral punitive measures on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, can only strengthen the position of Iran's hard-line right-wing politicians, experts told Sputnik.
The US Treasury Department said Tuesday it had expanded sanctions against Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard to include Revolutionary Guard's Aerospace Force Self Sufficiency Jihad Organization, Air Force, Al-Ghadir Missile Command and the Research and Self-Sufficiency Jihad Organization.
Sanctions May Strengthen Conservative Positions
Incumbent Iranian President Hassan Rouhani belongs to the Moderation and Development Party and is part of a more liberal group of politicians, open to liberalizing economy and cooperation with foreigners.
According to Dr. Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, the author of "Psycho-nationalism: Global thought, Iranian imaginations" recently published by Cambridge University Press, any new sanctions may play into the hands of right-wing Iranian politicians, as an external conflict would in any other country.
"The right-wing in any country gains political and ideological traction within the context of conflict," Adib-Moghaddam, a professor in global thought and comparative philosophies and the chair of the Center for Iranian Studies at the London Middle East Institute said.
In the run-up to the election, Rouhani had already faced criticism from his opponents over his failure to deliver on the promise of economic flourish following the nuclear deal. New US sanctions, whether related to the agreement or not, put additional strain on Iran's economy.
Gianluca Pastori, an associate professor of history of political relations between North America and Europe at Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, said that Rouhani's "radical" political rivals could use potential new sanctions to "gain the upper hand in the domestic power struggle."
"At the moment, moderation seems to prevail; both the EU and the European countries seem uninterested in following Trump’s hard line, and some of them are actively opposing this line. This choice is strengthening Rouhani’s position; however, it is still too early to draw any real conclusion," Pastori said.
According to Pastori, Tehran's adherence to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as Iran's nuclear deal, would depend on the same balance of power in the country as well, but compliance with the deal, confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), could work to the benefit of Rouhani, whose government negotiated the agreement.
"In this moment, ‘playing by the rules’ could be the most ‘rational,' and productive, choice. According to the IAEA, Iran is compliant with the provisions of the ‘nuclear deal’ and this is a strong weapon in Rouhani’s hands," Pastori said.
The nuclear deal, agreed by Iran, the European Union and the so-called P5+1, five permanent UN Security Council members, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, plus Germany, in 2015, allows Western countries to gradually lift sanctions off Iran in exchange for Tehran ensuring the peaceful nature of its nuclear program.
The latest US sanctions were imposed amid harsher Washington's rhetoric on the JCPOA. US President Donald Trump said on October 13 he decided not to certify that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson explained that Trump would not withdraw the United States from the agreement, but would not confirm to the US Congress that Iran is compliant, which the US president is expected to do every 90 days under congressional Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INRA).
Dr. Chuck Freilich, a former deputy national security adviser in Israel and a senior fellow at the Belfer Center at Harvard University, suggested that Iran seemed to be intent on adhering to the agreement as long as the United States did the same.
"In a few years, should Iran believe that it has exhausted the benefits it can get from ongoing adherence to the nuclear deal that may change. If the US backs out of the deal, rather than just the certifying Iranian compliance, that would also increase the dangers of Iran resuming its nuclear weapons development," Freilich said.
Dr Patrick Basham, an adjunct scholar with the Cato Institute and founding director of the Democracy Institute, said that Iran was unlikely to give up on the deal voluntarily.
"I don’t think it’s that likely. I say that because I think it’s less about the specific benefits that Iran gained than it is that Iran is understandably desperate to be back in the family of nations," Basham said.
Unilateral US sanctions may be an unwise move on part of Washington in terms of international relations even though it may be able to wangle support out of JCPOA allies, according to experts.
"Internationally, at least in the short term, it hurts America. It hurts her, specifically, because it shows America to be basically on her own, with the exception of Israel, [regarding] what she thinks should or shouldn't happen vis-a-vis Iran in the near future, especially regarding the nuclear agreement," Basham said.
Alex Vatanka, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, argued that the United States would have a strong advantage if it made its partners choose between its lucrative market and Iran's smaller one. However, US allies might not be completely happy with the situation.
"The vast majority of countries have chosen the US but initially, right now, the mood seems to be that the US is not justified in doing this. The Trump administration does not have a lot of political capital out there on the international stage," Vatanka said.
Basham pointed out that US sanctions against Lebanon-based Hezbollah militant group, allied with Iran, might be counterproductive in terms of the fight against terrorism in the Middle East.
"I think it might be one of those classic cases of American intent is a good one, is a well-intentioned move, but is perhaps ignorant of the specifics, the context, and the dynamics on the ground and all of the intricacies within the Islamic world in terms of politics and extremist thought… American sanctions may be counter-productive when it comes to helping to dampen down Islamic terrorism," Basham said.
Vatanka suggested that a broader US engagement and a kind of regional forum including some of the countries locked in conflict with Iran might help settle some of the differences.
Saudi Arabia and Israel are among Iran's regional antagonists, as Tehran has no diplomatic relations with either nation. In early June, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt broke off diplomatic relations with Qatar, demanding that it sever ties with Iran, among other requests.
Another strategy to influence Iran, according to Vatanka, would be "to increase… the pressure on… the Revolutionary Guard and the most hard-line elements, which basically could encourage an internal Iranian debate about how much of a cost they’re willing to pay and sacrifice economic interest of theirs by letting the Revolutionary Guards basically have carte blanche to do as they wish."
The expert added that the Trump administration was exploring this avenue, but it would take time to achieve that internal debate in Iran and even that would not bring "overnight" changes.