PUSHING IRAN’S BUTTONS

PUSHING IRAN’S BUTTONS

Trump has turned up the temperature, and Iran is feeling the heat. Before the US president renounced the nuclear deal earlier this year, Iran’s economy was expected to grow by 4.3 percent in 2018. But with Trump reimposing sanctions, and issuing threats to ensure others do the same, Iran is expected to reach just 1.8 percent this year before contracting by 4.3 percent next year, according to BMI Research.


Iran’s leaders are furious. In response to a speech in which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo compared Iran’s leadership to the mafia and pledged that the US would “support the long-ignored voice of the Iranian people,” President Hassan Rouhani warned that “war with Iran is the mother of all wars.” Trump then tweeted a warning that Iranian threats would force that country to “suffer the consequences the likes of which few throughout history have suffered before.”

Where might this lead? Rouhani has now issued an oblique threat to free passage through the Strait of Hormuz, through which about 30 percent of the world’s seaborne-traded crude oil passes. “Do not play with the lion’s tail,” he warned. “It will bring regret.”

At a moment when Trump is also beginning to air frustration with the slow pace of nuclear negotiations with North Korea, what do we take from all this?

  • It’s still easier to get tough on a country that has no nuclear weapons (Iran) than one that does (North Korea).

  • Trump will always be tougher on problems he blames on Obama (Iran) than those he’s taken on himself (North Korea).

  • Iran faces hardship-driven social unrest. North Korea doesn’t. That makes Iran vulnerable in a way North Korea is not (yet).

  • Most importantly, agree or disagree with his approach, Trump has a well-coordinated and logical Iran strategy. Sanctions add economic pressure, particularly as European companies decide they must honor them. US officials like Pompeo add rhetorical pressure. The US, Russia, and Israel work to squeeze Iran in Syria. The North Korea strategy, by contrast, still depends almost entirely on goodwill between Trump and Kim Jong-un.

Iran’s economic and political stability are likely to deteriorate through the end of this year. Expect its words and actions to become still more confrontational. Iran has absorbed plenty of pain over the years, a result of both war with Iraq and Western sanctions, but will a younger generation of Iranians prove as patient?

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How will the pause of Johnson & Johnson vaccine affect the overall pandemic fight in the United States?

Yeah. Right at it, right? Well, we heard that the FDA has suspended vaccines from J&J because of blood clots. They found six in seven million cases. It's kind of like the suspension of AstraZeneca in Europe. It's likely only going to last for a few days. It's a very small percentage of the total number of vaccines that are being jabbed right now into the arms of Americans. It's not going to really slow America's ability to get everyone vaccinated, but it is going to create more vaccine hesitancy. People at the margins will say, "Is this safe? They said it was fine. Now they're saying it's not okay." I understand why there's enormous caution on the part of the FDA, but I wish, wish, wish the communications had been a little softer around all of this. Also will be a problem in terms of export, as J&J is going to be a piece of that. And again, others around the world will say, "Well, if I don't get Moderna, if I don't get Pfizer, I'm not sure I want to take it at all." So all of this is negative news, though I would still say the United States this year is looking really, really good among major economies in dealing with pandemic.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Welcome to your week and I've got your Quick Take and thought I would talk a little bit about where we are with Iran. One of the Biden administration's promises upon election was to get the Americans back into the JCPOA, the Iranian nuclear deal. As of last week, negotiations are formally restarted, and pretty quickly, in Vienna, they're not direct. The Americans and Iranians are both there, but they're being intermediated by the Europeans because they're not yet ready to show that they can talk directly to each other. That's Iran being cautious in the run-up to their presidential election coming this summer. But the movement is there. So far the talk has largely been about sequencing the Iranian government, saying that all of the sanctions need to be removed before they're willing to go back into the deal, because the Americans after all, unilaterally withdrew from a deal that the Iranians were indeed adhering to, and the inspections did confirm that.

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