4 December 2019   Leave a comment

Iran has been experiencing violent protests since the government announced fuel price increases on 15 November. For the first time, the Iranian government has admitted that protesters have been killed although it has been obvious for some time now that the government efforts have been violent. According to the AP:

“The demonstrations began Nov. 15 after the government raised minimum gasoline prices by 50% to 15,000 Iranian rials per liter. That’s 12 cents a liter, or about 50 cents a gallon. After a monthly 60-liter quota, it costs 30,000 rials a liter. That’s nearly 24 cents a liter or 90 cents a gallon. An average gallon of regular gas in the U.S. costs $2.58 by comparison, according to AAA.

“Cheap gasoline is practically considered a birthright in Iran, home to the world’s fourth-largest crude oil reserves despite decades of economic woes. That disparity, especially given its oil wealth, fueled the anger felt by demonstrators.

“Iranians have seen their savings chewed away by the rial’s collapse from 32,000 to $1 at the time of the 2015 nuclear accord to 127,000 to $1 today under the renewed U.S. sanctions. The cost of daily staples also has risen.

Iran has been under severe economic pressure from sanctions imposed on it after US President Trump pulled the US out of the Iranian nuclear agreement (the JCPOA). The protests may signal the success of the sanctions by undermining the Iranian government. But the protests may also harden the position of the Iranian government to ratchet up the pressure on the former buyers of Iranian oil. The Middle East Institute published an essay on what a hardline strategy could entail:

“Under these circumstances, the outcome of the protests could be twofold: on the one hand, Tehran will definitely be concerned about an escalation in the uprising and try to speed up the launch of negotiations with the U.S. to ease the economic pressure. On the other hand, however, the Iranian leadership likely still believes it has time to prepare by raising the stakes to secure a stronger starting position in the talks and enable it to demand an immediate lifting of secondary sanctions.

“To achieve these twin goals, Iran can intensify the tactics it has used for the past 10 months, alternately destabilizing regional security and using the gradual buildup of its nuclear program to raise the value of a possible deal and also warn the Americans about the potential consequences of further increasing economic pressure. In between of the use of these levers, the international community has usually been given time to reconsider its support for U.S. sanctions before Iran repeats the actions.”

The critical actors in this standoff is not either Iran or the US–they are more or less obliged to maintain their current policies since backing down will be seen by the polities as a capitulation. Indeed, there are reports that the Trump Administration is considering sending 14,000 additional troops to the Middle East to counter Iran. The actors we should watch closely are the European states, Russia, and China since they have powerful interests in stabilizing the situation.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) celebrated its 70th anniversary, and there was a great deal of controversy at the event. There was a videotape of several leaders of NATO states mocking US President Trump. Mr. Trump had a very contentious press meeting with French President Macron in which the two leaders disagreed openly about a variety of issues. Mr. Trump also answered questions for 40 minutes while Canadian Prime Minister sat next to him without being questioned. But the most contentious matter was President Trump’s decision to meet with Turkish President Erdogan who has violated NATO’s unwritten rule that members should not purchase sophisticated weaponry from Russia. President Trump cancelled his scheduled press conference at the end of the meeting and left abruptly. NATO has been adrift since the dissolution of the USSR in 1991 but it continues to serve as a focal point for strategic planning and coordination among an important group of states.

Posted December 4, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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