Iran Is Changing, but Not in Ways Trump Thinks


President Trump says his decision to leave the nuclear agreement is already having a huge impact on Iran. He is right, Iranians say, but for the wrong reasons.

Mr. Trump said this month that Iran is changing its behavior in the region, implying that its leaders had been chastened or cowed by the American move and were pulling back.

“They’re no longer looking so much to the Mediterranean,” he told reporters. “They’re no longer looking so much to what’s going on in Syria, what’s going on in Yemen and lots of other places. They’re a much different country over the last three months. Iran is not the same country that it was a few months ago. They’re a much, much different group of leaders.”

But analysts say there has been little or no change in Iran’s regional posture. The real impact to date has been on internal politics, with a repression on the slightest hints of dissent, and the economy, after the reimposition of sanctions.

“A good economic and political process was underway in Iran,” said Mirzababa Motaharinezhad, a spokesman for Mardomsalary, a moderate political group. “Unfortunately, after Trump pulled out from the deal openness ended here and a crackdown on activists resumed.”

In the region, though, it seems to be business as usual. Last week an Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps commander, Hossein Salami, noted that Iran’s ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah, has 100,000 missiles ready to destroy Israel. In Syria, where Iran has played a crucial role in keeping President Bashar al-Assad in power, three Iranian soldiers were killed this month during battles. For the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Israel is still a “cancerous tumor” that must be removed.

“Trump has this illusion that because he left the nuclear agreement, we are forced to change our behavior in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine,” said Hossein Sheikholeslam, a special adviser to Iran’s foreign minister on regional issues. “No way we are doing that. If we ever change our policies, it will have nothing to do with Trump or anyone in the White House or elsewhere.”

 

 

Read the full article by Thomas Erdbrink on The New York Times, June 25, 2018


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