Iran Is Holding Its Breath Over Trump's Final Act

Iran’s leaders are bracing themselves for new sanctions as a final foreign policy flourish from Trump’s outgoing administration.
November 9, 2020, 6:16pm
A man walks past graffiti on the walls of the former Tehran Embassy building.
A man walks past graffiti on the walls of the former Tehran Embassy building. Photo: Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A long and difficult winter awaits people in Iran if Donald Trump hits the country with a new wave of sanctions in his final months in office.

Axios reported on Sunday that Trump’s Iran envoy, Elliott Abrams, had arrived in Tel Aviv to coordinate efforts with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and some Gulf Arab states to “flood” Iran with sanctions for the remainder of the year, to further complicate things for President-elect Joe Biden when he takes office in January.

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Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has urged Biden to “make up for past mistakes” and return the US to the landmark nuclear deal with world powers.

Iran signed the deal in 2015, agreeing to limit uranium enrichment in return for an easing of sanctions, but Trump unilaterally withdrew the US in 2018.

Rouhani said the Trump administration’s withdrawal was “damaging and wrong.” 

“The next US administration has now an opportunity to make up for the past mistakes and return to the path of commitment to international undertakings by respecting the global rules,” Rouhani told his cabinet on Sunday, according to state media.

Trump withdrew the US from the nuclear deal to uproar from the other signatories – China, France, Russia, the UK, Germany, and the rest of the EU – but hoped to force Iran’s leaders to swallow their pride and sign a new deal with his name on it.

Tensions between the two countries escalated, reaching a truly bizarre level when Trump got into an Instagram battle with Iran’s top military general, Qassim Soleimani, and culminating in Trump ordered the general’s death via drone strike at an airport in Baghdad, at the start of 2020.

Iran subsequently retaliated through proxies in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, with US troops and allies coming under regular drone, rocket and mortar attacks.

The transition of power in the US comes at a perilous time for Iran, its economy is on the verge of total collapse, and the current “reformist” government led by the chief negotiators of the nuclear deal lost their parliamentary majority in the summer, while Rouhani’s second term as president will end next year.

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In a tweet posted on Sunday in apparent reference to the Axios report, Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif warned that “betting on outsiders to provide security is never a good gamble.”

New sanctions would make it harder for the so-called moderates, the only mainstream political wing in Iran in favour of political and diplomatic solutions, to resist the country’s political hardliners.

On Monday, Saeed Khatibzadeh, the Iranian foreign ministry’s spokesperson, denied that Iran had reached out to Biden’s team.

“We basically have no contact with anybody about anything other than the issues totally related to the [Iran nuclear deal], specifically when and [a new] administration has not still taken power in the US,” he said.