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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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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

With the transition of power formally beginning now, what can we expect between now and inauguration day?

Well, there's a couple of important deadlines between now and Inauguration Day. The first is the December 14th meeting of the Electoral College, which will make the state certifications official and will make Joe Biden officially president-elect in the eyes of the US government. Another really important date is going to be January 5th, which is when Georgia has its runoff for the two Senate seats that will determine majority control in the Senate. If the Republicans win one of those seats, they'll maintain their majority, although very slim. If the Democrats win both of the seats, they'll have a 50/50 Senate with Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote and slightly more ability to enact Joe Biden's agenda next year. Also, between now and Inauguration Day, we're going to see Joe Biden announce his cabinet and senior staff. Most of whom will probably get confirmed fairly easily early, earlier ... Excuse me, later in January or early in February. And of course, we're going to see what President Trump is going to do next. I think that it's still a little bit up in the air what his post-presidency plans are. He has yet to concede the election. So, anything is possible from him, including a lot of new executive orders that could try to box Biden in and limit his options when it comes to economic policy, foreign policy, and social policy.

What can we expect out of the Biden administration's first 100 days?

Well, the biggest priority of the Biden administration first is going to be to confirm all of their cabinet appointees, and that should be pretty easy at the cabinet head level for the most part, even with a Republican controlled Senate. It's going to be a little more difficult once you get below the cabinet head, because then you're going to start to see some more ideological tests and some more policy concerns be flushed out by Republicans in the Senate. The second thing you're going to see is Biden start to undo as much of the Trump legacy as he can, and his primary vehicle for doing this is going to be executive orders, which is a lot of what president Trump used in order to enact policy. Expect Biden to reenter the Paris Climate Accord on day one and expect him to start undoing things like Trump's immigration orders and perhaps reversing some of his decisions on trade. Yet to be determined is if Congress is going to have fully funded the government for the entire year in December in the lame-duck session, and if they haven't, Biden's going to have to work out a deal probably in March or so to do that.

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