What is Trump’s Next Move in the Face of Iranian Demonstrations?

Ever since he pulled America out of President Obama’s 2015 Iran Deal, Donald Trump has met criticism from his allies and his enemies. French President Emmanuel Macron tried to use this year’s G7 summit as an opportunity to bridge the gap between Tehran and Washington and get both sides talking again. The French President even boasted that Trump-Rouhani talks ‘could happen within weeks.’

President Trump’s convictions on this issue have been clear from the start; the Iran Deal does not work, and he is right to exercise that point. Obama’s deal failed to prevent Iran from sponsoring terrorist groups like Hezbollah and it did not curb Tehran’s nuclear activities altogether. Both NATO and Washington are to blame for failing to agree on a coherent plan that could replace the 2015 agreement sooner.

Since the Iran Deal was cancelled, the US President has issued sanctions that are crippling Iran. Newsweek’s Jonathan Broder said his sanctions have caused Tehran to get weaker as protests escalate at home and abroad. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards have killed approximately 106 protesters in disruptive demonstrations against fuel price increases. Amnesty International said the actual death toll could be higher, with Iranian reports suggesting at least 200 people might have been killed.

Iranians have smashed stores, burnt vehicles and ransacked buildings in the capital and other major cities. This has triggered Iran’s judiciary into agreeing that death by hanging is the most suitable punishment for protest leaders.

Iran’s influence abroad is being tested too. Street demonstrations have erupted across Iraq and protesters have burnt Iranian flags in the holy city of Karbala. Iraqi militias trained and armed by Tehran have killed more than 300 people and injured 15,000 more.

Demonstrations in Lebanon, although less severe than in Iraq and Iran, have been targeted against Hezbollah. Perhaps this could be a sign that Iran’s grip on the Middle East could be starting to break.

Trump is achieving his desired effect. He never believed war was the answer to the Iranian crisis and he has no intention of ending Iran’s sanctions until he can reach a deal with Iran or ensure there is a regime change, followed by Tehran’s total capitulation. As the Islamic Republic finds itself crippled by protests, it begs the question as to which nation should make the first move in resolving this situation?

National security adviser John Bolton was fired because the President lost faith in his ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against Iran. Now that it is working, it could bring Hassan Rouhani to the negotiating table. Trump knows that his goal of removing Tehran’s current regime is an unrealistic prospect in the short-term, so a deal must be his first solution.

Rouhani declined a meeting with Trump because the latter refused to ease his sanctions, but now that Tehran has witnessed the effect they can have on its economy, the Iranian leader should realise the US is in a stronger position. Rouhani will only agree to talks if the President eases his sanctions, which he must consider doing so that both sides can conclude a new deal.

Furthermore, both leaders must adhere to the 4-point plan that Macron coordinated and that Trump and Rouhani agreed to. This plan would ensure that all US sanctions against Iran are lifted in exchange for Tehran completely surrendering its nuclear programme. As Politico’s Rym Momtaz said, it would be a ‘win-win’ for both sides: the President can claim he forced the Islamic Republic to completely surrender its nuclear arsenal, whilst Rouhani could argue he rescued his country from US sanctions.

Therefore, Trump’s sanctions may be working, but to resolve this situation altogether, he should meet his Iranian counterpart and implement the four-point plan they agreed to. If he doesn’t, many Iranian citizens will continue to suffer.