By most accounts, Iran’s recent wave of protests grew out of economic grievances, including high unemployment, a less than expected economic dividend from the 2015 nuclear deal, and even such day-to-day concerns as “a surge in prices of basic food supplies like eggs and poultry.”
But it has morphed into a broader challenge to the policies of the Iranian regime. Protesters say their government devotes too many resources to its aggressive regional foreign policy and not enough on domestic priorities — demonstrating with slogans such as, “Leave Syria [or Palestinian territories] alone, do something for us!”
It would be a mistake for Americans to conclude that the protests are about us — the unrest speaks to politics that go beyond the Islamic Republic’s contentious relationship with the West. And it would be wrong to view these events solely through the prism of the nuclear agreement. But it’s fair to say the protests help illustrate that the Obama administration negotiated a better nuclear deal than many of its critics admit.
It shows that critics who said Iran would be empowered by the deal were wrong. First, Iran did not reap the windfall from the nuclear deal that many feared it would. Even after many sanctions were rolled back, Iran did not get the economic benefits it was expecting — or that its leaders promised. Rouhani called the deal a “golden page” in Iran’s history and described it as an “opportunity to develop the country” and “improve the welfare of the nation.” But that boon has yet to materialize.
During the initial implementation of the nuclear deal, it was my job at the State Department to travel the world explaining to international banks and companies to what extent they could invest in Iran. I saw how continuing political and legal concerns kept multinational banks and companies from taking advantage of sanctions relief.
In part, this was by design. Many companies held off from entering Iran post-agreement because they knew the United States and thovee international community could snap back nuclear sanctions if Iran violated the deal, a part of the agreement President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry held to as a mechanism to ensure Iran’s compliance. Additionally, the Obama administration insisted that ballistic missile and human rights sanctions could be enforced, making it risky to do business in Iran while the regime continued its bad behavior in these areas.tw