Iran’s Isolation Brings Defiance and Collateral Damage

Khamenei says no to talks with Trump, but two of Iran’s neighbors hope to negotiate an exemption from U.S. sanctions

Earlier this week in Tehran, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made comments placing blame on Hassan Rouhani for the present economic crisis in his country. Rouhani had crossed “red lines” in nuclear talks with the Obama Administration, Khomeini said, implying that he had ceded more to negotiators than he had been mandated to. Now amid restored American sanctions on Iran, as the rial plunges in value and foreign businesses flee the country fearing repercussions from the United States, Khamenei’s comments were read as an effort to place some distance between himself and the embattled Iranian president.

The leader also put speculation to rest as to whether his government would accept U.S. President Trump’s invitation to talks without conditions. “The Islamic Republic can negotiate with America whenever it achieves the will to resist America’s pressure and blackmail,” he said. “Today this is not the case.” He declared that he was following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Ayatollah Khomeini, in “prohibiting” such negotiations. For the avoidance of doubt, the Supreme Leader also Tweeted as much: “Recently, U.S. officials have been talking blatantly about us. Beside sanctions, they are talking about war and negotiations. In this regard, let me say a few words to the people: “THERE WILL BE NO WAR, NOR WILL WE NEGOTIATE WITH THE U.S.”

The comments coincided with news of new Iranian ballistic missile testing, which appeared to send a message of defiance to the U.S. and its allies. “Fateh Mobin” (Illuminating Conquerer), a missile with a range estimated at 500-800 miles, was successfully launched this month, according to Iranian officials. State media quoted Defense Minister Amir Hatami as saying, “As promised to our dear people, we will not spare any effort to increase the missile capabilities of the country, and we will certainly increase our missile power every day. Nothing can stop this missile because of its high degree of flexibility.” The missile was touted for its capacity to evade radar detection.

Meanwhile, as renewed sanctions on Iran set in, Western observers noted that two countries the U.S. did not intend to harm through its Iran policy may suffer collateral financial damage: Afghanistan and Iraq. Landlocked Afghanistan faces the prospect of a return of half a million migrant workers from Iran, as Iranian unemployment soars due to sanctions. The loss of remittances and absence of opportunity in Afghanistan present a double problem for the impoverished country. As Afghanistan is also landlocked, the loss of access to Iran’s sea routes under sanctions further tax the country. As to Iraq, millions of dollars in its citizens’ funds had been placed in Iranian banks in 2015 when the Iraqi economy was in jeopardy and the Iranian nuclear deal appeared poised to give Iran a lift. Now the value of those funds has plummeted. Iraq will also pay a high price to comply with international sanctions on Iran in light of its reliance on the country for electricity, food, and water. Some U.S. policymakers have suggested Iraq be exempted from Iran sanctions, as Jordan was exempted from sanctions on Iraq during the economic embargo of Saddam Hussein’s regime. But when U.S. Treasury officials visited Iraq’s central bank last month, they reportedly warned that there would be no Iraq exemption.

*Middle East specialist Joseph Braude is the author of Broadcasting Change: Arabic Media as a Catalyst for Liberalism (Rowman & Littlefield). He is Advisor to the Al-Mesbar Center for Research and Studies and [email protected].


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