The commander of Iran’s special forces, Major General Qasem Soleimani, chief of the Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force, warned the United States on July 28 to halt threats of military action against Tehran. Soleimani raised the stakes in fiery exchanges between Washington and Iran.
Soleimani’s message suggested Iran’s leadership is willing to stoke tensions with Washington, as part of Tehran’s efforts to project wider regional clout. He said President Donald Trump would regret waging a war that would “destroy all that he owns”—an apparent reference to U.S. influence in the region.
“You may begin the war, but it will be us who will end it,” Soleimani said in an August 1 speech in the central city of Hamedan, per Iran’s Fars News .
The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump would be willing to meet with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani (though his real counterpart is Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei), without first demanding diplomatic concessions. This statement was an opening to nations he once condemned and has called a threat to American safety and economic security. For example, by issuing credible threats and promises of diplomacy, also known as “coercive diplomacy,” Trump helped bring Chairman Kim Jong-un to the table.
Trump, replying to a question at a White House news conference, illustrated his rather off-the-cuff style of diplomacy, which often has been effective. The news conference came just a week after he traded threats with Rouhani. In a televised interview later, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listed preconditions for such a meeting, in contrast to Trump’s offer.
Trump expressed openness to meet with Rouhani came fewer than three months, after he withdrew from the nuclear deal with Iran. Under former President Barack Obama, it aimed to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Trump in his White House address of May 11, 2018, criticized Iran as the “biggest sponsor of terrorism around the world.”
There was also a July 22 Trump tweet, which threatened Iran.
“To Iranian President Rouhani: NEVER AGAIN THREATEN THE UNITED STATES, OR YOU WILL SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND BY FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE AND DEATH BE CAUTIONS!”
The tweet dominated the headlines that day.
Trump has used the Obama administration’s sanctions, but when they snapped back after he withdrew from the nuclear deal, his administration decided to also apply sanctions on human rights violations and Iran’s destabilizing of Syria and Yemen.
Trump’s White House uses authority that the Obama administration failed to employ and imposes sanctions on Iran for human rights and for its interference in Syria and Yemen. Thus, transitioning from the Obama administration to an administration run by Trump helps—not hinders—protests in Iran.
On July 22, Pompeo delivered a major speech on Iran to the Reagan Forum. Under the previous administration, only nuclear-related sanctions were applied against Iran for its ballistic-missile technologies and Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism.
Obama had the authority to apply sanctions on Iran for its human-rights issues and its destabilizing of Syria and Yemen. However, he elected not to use the authority and warned Congress not to do so.
Anti-government protests in Iran are fueled by rising discontent over the cost of living and institutionalized corruption. Inflation is high, youths are struggling to find employment, and people are becoming poor. Just last month a new round of large-scale protests kicked off in major Iranian cities such as Isfahan, Karaj, Shiraz, and expanded to over a dozen other cities. They have continued ever since, as protesters are now resisting State Security Forces when they attack their peaceful, yet very powerfully messaged demonstrations.
The rial’s value plummeted to a third of what it was worth a year ago.
What acts as fuel to fire are political factors. It is critical to find ways to accelerate political change by Iranians. They seek free access to the Internet and messaging applications like Telegram. Its main appeal is security. Telegram’s activities—including chats, groups and media—are encrypted.
The BBC has estimated that seventeen demonstrations and strikes each day are organized by labor unions and activists. These events are caused by the combination of Obama’s limited sanctions on Iran and Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal and impose additional, stronger sanctions.
Under Obama, sanctions on Iran included missile technologies, state sponsorship of international terrorism, authority to levy sanctions on human rights and destabilizing regional activities. These sanctions were placed on Iran for actions in Syria and Yemen. Obama imposed sanctions for nuclear-related activities of Iran and some for human rights. For example, a Ministry of Intelligence of Iran (MOIS) official in charge of Iran’s intelligence operations in Europe was caught with evidence of his activity. So in 2012, Obama’s Treasury accused MOIS of human-rights abuses and support for terrorism.