Iran's 'cup of poison'? Hardline win may point to eventual U.S. talks

Iran's 'cup of poison'? Hardline win may point to eventual U.S. talks  

By Parisa Hafezi

DUBAI (Reuters) - Anti-Western hardliners are set to sweep Iran's parliamentary elections and appear favorites to clinch the presidency next year, but an economic crisis could force them to engage with the United States despite their tightening grip on power.

Tehran has ruled out any talks with Washington unless it lifts crippling sanctions reimposed on Iran after U.S. President Donald Trump exited a 2015 multinational nuclear pact with Iran and demanded a broader deal.

But growing discontent over economic hardship, which led many Iranians to abstain from Friday's vote, could force the Islamic Republic's clerical rulers to choose diplomacy over the kind of confrontation that almost led to all-out war in January.

Some insiders said Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei may have to drink "the cup of poison", citing a phrase used by his predecessor Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini when he agreed to a U.N.-mediated truce that ended the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

Iran's fragile economy, weakened by a U.S. "maximum pressure" campaign that has choked vital oil exports and by corruption and mismanagement alienating many Iranians, leaves the Iranian authorities with few options.

The killing of Iran's most prominent commander Qassem Soleimani in a U.S. drone attack in Baghdad and Tehran's retaliation by launching missile attacks on U.S. targets in Iraq brought the arch foes to the brink of war in January.

"Iran is just one systemic crisis away from the breaking point," Michael Tanchum, senior fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy (AIES), told Reuters.

"To avoiding this breaking point, Iran's hardliners may offer the U.S. concessions for the sake of the regime's survival."

A host of disputes divide the two old foes.

Iran decries the U.S. military role in the Gulf. Washington objects to Iran's regional paramilitary alliances, its missile program and its nuclear work, which Tehran says is peaceful but Washington worries may be aimed at building a bomb.

Yet while the issues may be very difficult to resolve, simply starting direct talks on any of these questions would represent a diplomatic sea-change.

Iran's hardliners, long favored by Khamenei and ever more dominant after Friday's election, may now have the political space to engage with Washington if they judge it is necessary.

The advances by hardliners in parliamentary polls followed the disqualification of thousands of moderates and leading conservative candidates by a hardline vetting body, the Guardian Council that reports directly to Khamenei.

Iran's dual system of clerical and republican rule places decisive power in the hands of a hardline establishment, which has in the past tightened its grip on the apparatus of control when faced with external and internal threats.

Although parliament has no major influence on foreign affairs or nuclear policy, which is determined by Khamenei, a victory in Friday's election could shape Iran's politics for years to come by handing hardliners a bigger prize - a stronger platform to campaign in the 2021 presidential contest.

"Hardliners are eyeing the presidency," said a senior Iranian official, who like others contacted by Reuters for this story asked not to be named because of political sensitivities.

"A victory by hardliners in the presidential election, combined with growing economic hardship, might open a new chapter between Iran and America," the official said.

There is precedent for economic pain producing engagement.

Iran's sanctions-damaged economy forced Khamenei to give tentative backing to the nuclear pact engineered by pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani, which ended the country's economic and political isolation until Trump quit the deal in 2018.

"Remaining in power is the main concern for Iran's top leader. Securing the existence of the Islamic Republic mainly depends on improving the economy," said another senior official, close to the hardline camp. "For the leader, the priority is to secure the interests of the Islamic Republic."


Conservatives, who like hardliners support the theocracy but favor a less confrontational foreign policy, would back detente.

The struggle of ordinary Iranians to make ends meet has become harder since reimposition of the U.S. sanctions, which combined with the rising inflation, growing unemployment, a slump in the rial has caused Iran's economy to deteriorate.

The establishment's core support comes from lower-income Iranians, who joined anti-government protests in November over a sudden hike in fuel prices. The unrest turned political with protesters demanding a "regime change".

The elite Revolutionary Guards responded with a harsh crackdown that saw hundreds killed and thousands jailed, but the unrest rattled clerical rulers by reminding them how vulnerable they are to popular anger over economic hardship.

Candidates affiliated with the Guards made a strong showing in parliamentary elections, leading the race in the capital Tehran and across Iran.

"In this ongoing process, the Guards will become an increasingly powerful force, extending its dominance in the military, intelligence and economic spheres onto the political one," said Ali Fathollah-Nejad, visiting Fellow at Brookings Doha Centre.

Demands by many pro-reform Iranians for social and political freedoms, however, are unlikely to be met. Hardliners, entrenched in institutions Khamenei controls such as the judiciary, are determined to prevent domestic liberalization.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Michael Georgy, Ghaida Ghantous, William Maclean)


More Related News

Navy Secretary calls Roosevelt
Navy Secretary calls Roosevelt's fired captain 'stupid' as more ships stricken with coronavirus

Trump says he will look into case, saying Capt. Crozier has had "a very good career," and he doesn't "want to destroy somebody for having a bad day."

He Led a Top Navy Ship. Now He Sits in Quarantine, Fired and Infected.
He Led a Top Navy Ship. Now He Sits in Quarantine, Fired and Infected.
  • World
  • 2020-04-06 12:09:25Z

WASHINGTON -- For days, he fended off fears that the contagion would spread unchecked through his crew. Then last week, the captain of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, who had appealed to his superiors for help, was fired.By Sunday, friends said, he had come down with the coronavirus himself.The military has long adhered to a rigid chain of command and tolerated no dissent expressed outside official channels. Capt. Brett Crozier, the skipper of the aircraft carrier, knew he was up against those imperatives when he asked for help for nearly 5,000 crew members trapped in a petri dish of a warship in the middle of a pandemic.But colleagues say the mistake that could cost Crozier...

Trump Urges Coronavirus Patients to Take Unproven Drug
Trump Urges Coronavirus Patients to Take Unproven Drug

President Donald Trump said on Saturday that the federal government was placing millions of doses of a malaria drug in the federal stockpile of emergency medical supplies to make it available for coronavirus patients, even though the drug has not been approved for COVID-19 treatment and his top coronavirus

Trump Proceeds With Post-Impeachment Purge Amid Pandemic
Trump Proceeds With Post-Impeachment Purge Amid Pandemic

WASHINGTON -- Remember the impeachment? President Donald Trump does. Even in the middle of a pandemic, he made clear on Saturday that he remained fixated on purging the government of those he believes betrayed him during the inquiry that led to his Senate trial.The president's under-cover-of-darkness

U.S. 'wasted' months before preparing for virus pandemic

As the first alarms sounded in early January that an outbreak of a novel coronavirus in China might ignite a global pandemic, the Trump administration squandered nearly two months that could have been used to bolster the federal stockpile of critically needed medical supplies and equipment. A review

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply


Top News: Latin America