Exterior view of the Grand Hotel Wien in Vienna, Austria, April 9, 2021 where closed-door nuclear talks with Iran take place. (AP)

By Track Persia

April 29, 2021

Iranian pensioners have been rallying for many days now demanding higher wages based on increasing inflation & their delayed pensions. The protesters chanted: “We’re no longer voting after hearing so many lies!”

These demonstrations are a continuation of the nationwide protests which erupted in Iran in mid-November 2019 and spread overnight to almost every major city. They were triggered by the government’s announcement that its decision on an increase in the price of gasoline. The regime links these protests to external forces amid a serious fiscal crisis and rising prices for food and other necessities. Non-government estimates range from 300 to 1,500 protesters killed by Iran’s security forces.

According to Rouhollah Jomeie, an advisor to Iran’s Interior Ministry, a significant number of casualties in Iran’s November 2019 unrest were “killed from close range.” The government handling of the protests and Jomeie’s claim were hotly debated with the former reformist member of parliament Mahmoud Sadeghi on social media app Clubhouse on April 22.

Jomeie defended Iran’s security forces by claiming that 23 per cent of protesters killed were shot at close range. His remark recalls statements by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Deputy Commander Ali Fadavi on November 24, 2019, that many protesters were shot in the back by unknown elements, taken to be foreign agents and provocateurs. Fadavi had previously justified the use of lethal force comparing the protests with the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

Boasting about the mass killing of the protesters, the Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli had previously said that while France had taken months to control its protests Iran had taken just three days. Other Iranian officials such as the former lawmaker Sadeghi said the killing of the protesters was due to the use of lethal force while  Jomeie portrayed the killing of protesters as largely of defending public buildings and staff.

For his part, the Commander of the Iranian army’s Ground Forces, Brigadier-General Kiyumars Heidari has recently said that his troops’ “presence in the field” during nation-wide unrest in November 2019 following increases in fuel prices was an example of his force’s absolute loyalty to the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Heidari became the first military official to speak publicly about the role of the army in the protests. He claimed that he had told the Chief of Joint Staff of the Armed Forces, Brigadier General Mohammad-Hossein Bagheri, that it had been the best opportunity for him to help his country’s security.

Similarly, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has broken his silence and spoken about the negotiations of the Iran nuclear agreement indicating his frustration and despair with these negotiations. Khamenei said that the negotiations with the world powers were humiliating. He pledged that he would not allow any “erosive negotiations”, attacking the United States by accusing it of always making arrogant and humiliating offers.

It appears that Khamenei’s remarks were prompted by the stagnation of his regime. They reflect his concerns over the continued unrests of the starving Iranians. Khameini’s frustration with the current nuclear negotiations is reciprocated by other Iranian officials. They include attacks on the Biden administration. Among them is Mohamad Vaezi, Chief of Staff to the regime’s president Hassan Rouhani who also reiterated Khamenei’s remarks that describing the current nuclear negotiations with the world powers as humiliating. Vaezi said: “The new US administration had announced that the maximum pressure of the Trump administration had failed, and it did not accept that policy. In practice, maintaining the sanctions means that it is following the same path.” The Iranian official also accused the United State of attempting to take more concessions in non-nuclear areas by pursuing a stronger agreement.

Fearing of the hungry and furious Iranians prompted Abbas Araghchi, Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Iranian regime to reveal his anger with the Europeans’ positions. In his view, the opposing countries in Iran nuclear deal should condemn the incident of Natanz, which the regime has accused Israel of its responsibility, because “it was not something that could be easily overlooked.”

In the meantime, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani was keen to make soft remarks  about his frustration with the Biden administration by asking the American leaders to “live up to their commitments and lift the embargo.”

The frustration of the Iranian leadership indicates that it has realised now that the United States intends to keep the maximal demands that the former President Donald Trump re-imposed on Iran and that the Biden administration cannot lift all the US sanctions, especially those imposed by the Congress.

While the United States and other parties involved in Iran nuclear negotiations are not accepting the same conditions of the 2015 Iran agreement, they are searching for a new deal that includes the Iranian regime’s missile arsenal and aggressive and destabilising activities in the Middle East in new the nuclear agreement.

Iran and the United States are in dispute over which sanctions should be lifted. Iran wants to return to the time before [Donald] Trump entered the White House. The United States is reluctant to lift all the Trump-era sanctions, in part because the Trump administration has deliberately linked many of the sanctions to the fight against terrorism, which are difficult to lift.

All indications suggest that the new American administration is keen to discuss a new deal with Iran, on condition that the new deal should include fundamental changes in Iran’s support for militants in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, in addition, to imposing a limitation on its ballistic missiles.

It seems that the regime has concluded that accepting the continuation of negotiations while knowing that the United States and Europe have no incentive to lift sanctions, is not the right strategy to revive the nuclear agreement. Lifting the economic sanctions on Iran has now become a dream that many Iranian leaders still dream of.

The main concerns of the Iranian leaders are the growing nationwide protests which are triggered by poverty, unemployment, and economic deterioration. However, the Iranian leadership has no option but to take a softer approach to the current negotiations with the world power over its controversial nuclear programme by eventually accept all the demands of the world powers. This only means that the Iranian leadership cannot avoid taking another poisoned chalice.

About Track Persia

Track Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.