Every so often, we take a deep breath and dive into foreign politics. You can take a browse through Slow News Weekly to find deep dives on North Korea, Israel and Palestine and Yemen. Iran has been on the to-do list for a long time, and there’s no better time to look into this complicated Islamic nation.
On May 12, Trump will decide if the United States is pulling out of a deal set up by Obama, the United Nations and several European countries a few years ago. The agreement was designed to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program. If Trump pulls the trigger – so to speak – and withdraws American support, the domino effects would be costly. Iran’s relationship to the US has larger consequences for Korea, Israel, Syria and others.
Never fear, Slow News Weekly is here.
Iran, in about 150 words
Iran is an Islamic Republic – simultaneously a country governed by theology, but also a democracy. How we got to that point is a story for another time, but there’s a couple of things that are helpful to know.
The first is that Iran essentially has two leaders – one operating as a dictator power, the other as a democratically elected President.
There is the Supreme Leader, who is unelected. He is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and he’s been top dog since 1989. By his own admission, he’s not going to be around for much longer (he’s 78 years old) – which adds to Iran’s volatility. The Supreme Leader is in charge of the judiciary, and – most importantly – the military and something called the IRGC: the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. As you can imagine, the IRGC aren’t very friendly with the West.
The President is Hassan Rouhani – generally regarded as a moderate. Although there have recently been mass protests against him as he has continually wound back state subsidies for welfare, fuel, electricity and food, financially crippling many Iranian citizens.
What is the Iran Nuclear Deal?
The Iran Nuclear Deal was – and is – big. In 2015, Iran signed on to halt its development of nuclear weapons. It drastically cut its uranium stocks, promised to leave those stocks unenriched, and agreed to comprehensive inspections to ensure they weren’t cheating. That’s a lot. And while the United States Congress was opposed to the deal at the time (it was under Republican control), many European leaders saw it as a great success.
How on Earth did they get Iran to agree to such terms?
Iran was crippled by economic sanctions – not unlike the ones that various countries have put on North Korea over the years. This isolated Iran and froze their economy. They couldn’t trade on the international stage, and they suffered for it. Those sanctions were lifted in exchange for the promise of a nuclear-free Iranian future. Currently, that deal runs out in 2025.
So why was Congress opposed at the time? And why does Trump want to step back?
Trump and others think that Iran’s been naughty and gone against the spirit of the deal. Iran’s continued to test missiles. That’s not breaking the agreement, but Trump reckons the missile’s are being developed to eventually fly a nuke to Iran’s enemies.
Plus, Iran – and particularly its IRGC – are besties with some pretty dodgy people. This includes Hezbollah – the terrorist organisation. That makes Iran an enemy to Saudi Arabia and Israel. For many years, innocents have been trapped in ‘proxy wars’ between Saudi Arabia and Iran. In Syria, Iran supports the ‘official’ government in Syria (you know, the one that gases its own citizens) with funds, troops and equipment. Saudi Arabia supports the rebels. It’s a similar situation in Yemen.
Israel and Saudia Arabia are allies with the United States. So they aren’t thrilled with the idea that the US is sitting on its hands while Iran is testing missiles and throwing its military weight around in Yemen, Syria and Palestine.
One of the most effective and traditional methods of one country punishing another is to issue sanctions. But the United States has agreed to not impose tough sanctions on Iran, thanks to the nuclear deal.
So now, Trump’s considering throwing it out. But European leaders, the UN, the US Congress and many in the American public think that’s a bad idea. In a rare moment of public condemnation of the United States, the Australian Government went so far as to say they weren’t a fan of the idea either.
If the deal is put in the bin, Iranian citizens would likely suffer more through international sanctions. Not only that, Iran would be free to develop its nuclear program, further threatening Israel, Syria, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
Plus, Trump is supposed to sit down with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the next month. If he does so just a few days after throwing out a nuclear deal with Iran, why would North Korea be motivated to step down from their nuclear program?
France has an idea
Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron visited Trump and apparently the two just loved each other. On the matter of Iran, however, Macron was very careful to disagree with his American counter-part.
Macron was like that cute girl in those Taco ads….
Macron’s trip seemed to be a convoluted dance to get Trump on board with this idea. And it seems to have worked. From The Guardian:
“Nobody knows what I’m going to do on the 12th,” he said, turning to Macron and adding: “Though Mr President, you have a pretty good idea.”
“We can change and we can be flexible. In life, you have to be flexible,” Trump concluded at the end of the joint press conference.
So, barring any nasty surprises in May, it looks as though the nuclear deal will stay in tact, thanks to a smiling French man and a whole lot of international pressure. We’ll keep you up to date regardless.
We’ll be back at the end of the week.
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