Iran Relies on Western Trust, Avoids Internal Change

 The eventual replacement of Aboutalebi with Khoshrou is perhaps indicative of Iranian efforts to secure or retain some measure of Western trust at a time when negotiators are striving to obtain large-scale sanctions relief. Thus far, those efforts have not led to compromise on key points in the ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. But Western officials have lauded the prospect for a final agreement on the basis of very modest Iranian concessions, including its mere decision to remain at the negotiating table.

The contrast between these modest concessions and Tehran’s non-cooperation on more substantive points may be read as part of an effort to avoid genuine changes of policy while still holding onto Western trust. This impulse can possibly be seen in other public relations efforts by the regime, as well. Most recently, the Times of India reported that Tehran had announced that foreign women would be permitted to attend the Men’s Volleyball Championship when the Iranian capital hosts it this year. But in spite of this, the existing ban on Iranian women’s attendance at such games will remain in place.

Last July, British-Iranian Ghoncheh Ghavami made international headlines when she was arrested for protesting Iran’s restrictions on female attendance, and was subsequently held for five months before being charged with propaganda and finally released on bail. This week’s very slight change of policy ostensibly prevents foreign women from being subject to this kind of repression, but the nation’s strict gender laws remain untouched for its women, and may in fact be getting worse as the Iranian government cracks down on reformism and foreign influence and pushes for its citizens to have large families at early ages.

Demonstrating that these sex and family-related policies sometimes harm men as well as women, unmarried workers in Iran’s Hamedan province are now facing termination of employment. A representative of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday that bachelors would be given one year to married, and would be replaced if they did not comply, as part of an effort to “correct cultural views about marriage.”

This policy promises to be especially harmful to people who feel that they cannot afford families. And amidst economic mismanagement, international isolation, and falling oil prices, this describes a significant portion of the country’s population. Even some of Iran’s typically overly optimistic officials have been forced to admit the peril that the nation’s economy faces. For instance, UPI pointed out on Wednesday that Mohsen Rezaei, the secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council had estimated that falling oil prices and production have resulted in more than 100 billion dollars in revenue loss.

Figures like these help to illustrate why Iran may be desperate to maintain the West’s trust while the two sides negotiate for relief of economic sanctions.

President Hassan Rouhani was forced to reevaluate initial estimates for the coming year’s budget, reducing the estimate for average oil prices from 72 dollars per barrel to 40. But this change did not correspond to a change in plans to increase the budget for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps by more than one third. One can imagine how much ordinary Iranian citizens will thus be impacted by current economic shifts.

Figures like these illustrate that Iran is not yet willing to make substantive policy changes in order to court Western trust and sanction relief. Indeed, the highly funded Revolutionary Guards are the source of some of the most aggressive anti-Western rhetoric and policy initiatives coming out of the Islamic Republic today.

Also indicative of Iran’s fundamental unwillingness to change its policies toward the West in order to secure needed trust, at least three Americans remain in prison in Iran, the cases against them either poorly justified or not articulated at all. The latter is the case with Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who a senior Iranian judicial official said would be tried “soon,” according to Al Jazeera.

Rezaian was arrested on July 22 and has been held since then, largely in solitary confinement. The Obama administration has publicly called for his release, but all credible reports indicate that this and other legal attacks on Americans and Europeans in Iran have not affected nor been brought up in nuclear negotiations between Iran and six world powers.

Thus far, the Iranian regime has faced few if any consequences for its unjust imprisonment of Western citizens. So one can imagine how little effect the continued abuse of Iran’s own citizens has had on its relations with Western powers. And this is certainly not because the West is unaware of those abuses.