Diplomacy, sanctions and soft power have did not deter Iran from its anti-Western agenda. Could a brand new Iranian president change that?

The presidential elections in Iran on June 2 could offer Tehran the chance to force a fresh start in foreign policy after years of accelerating warmongering. Indeed, a central campaign issue was the extent to which the candidates would – or wouldn’t – commit to more Engagement with the West.

While the supreme leader – the very best religious and political authority within the country – is the final word arbiter in coping with international powers, the Iranian president has influence in a political system during which several centers of power.

The presidential election, which was Death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash in May 2024, comes at a time when Iran is grappling with major, interconnected national, regional and global problems. The country's economy continues to suffer from international sanctions, the most recent round of which collected by the US and UK in April 2024 after Iran launched a direct attack on Israel.

Sanctions should not the one way the West can put pressure on Tehran: Cyber ​​War, light power And Military power are also available to the countries. But Iran’s activities – comparable to the financing of militant proxy groups, Circumventing sanctions over China and Russia and the further development of national nuclear and missile programs – have continued unabated in recent times.

As experts for US foreign policy and IranWe consider this raises a very important query: are the efforts of the US and its allies to discourage Iran having any effect? ​​And could a change of president provide a possibility for the West to rethink its approach to Iran?

The limits of diplomacy

Since Iran's Islamic Revolution 1979The United States and Iran shouldn’t have official diplomatic relations. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any diplomatic efforts. In fact, there are unofficial channels, comparable to the US's cooperation with the Swiss government.

But US diplomatic efforts with Iran are complicated at one of the best of times. They are vulnerable to disruption if the US or Iran changes leadership, and have only turn out to be tougher as Iran has grown closer with China and Russia.

Two men search the rubble.
Debris of a destroyed Iranian consulate constructing hit by Israeli jets in Damascus, Syria, Monday, April 1, 2024.

The result was a inconsistent diplomatic policy on the subject of how the US and the West usually take care of Tehran.

This is partly a consequence of the increasing more influence within the Middle East and deepening their economic and strategic Relations with Tehran. Russia has also Military, politically And economically Connections to Iran.

This has weakened the impact of Western diplomacy; Iran simply doesn’t feel compelled to achieve an agreement with the United States and its allies on its security interests.

The Joint Comprehensive Action Planthe Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty signed in 2015, but abandoned by the Trump administration in 2018 is a first-rate example. Western leaders tried to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons but were unable to steer Iran to cooperate after President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement.

Despite this lack of progress, channels of communication between the United States and Iran remain open. Following Israel's attack on the Iranian embassy complex in Syria The USA signalled clearly According to Tehran, the country was not involved within the operation, apparently to stop a retaliatory strike against US interests within the region.

Nevertheless, Iran has little Incentive to barter Given the inconsistent, unpredictable policies of the US leadership.

In the meantime upcoming US-Saudi security pact could push Iran even further away from the West and closer to the sphere of influence of China and Russia.

Ultimately, the US and Europe have two goals: to stop Iran from constructing a nuclear weapon and to contain the conflicts it sponsors within the Middle East.

But each goals seem unattainable up to now, because Iran continuation, Unabated uranium enrichment and be attacks happen often throughout the Middle East.

In the past, Iran has given diplomacy a likelihood, fearing that a scarcity of willingness could play into the hands of Western hawks who push for military strikes against Iran.

A brand new reform-minded president in Iran could mobilize support for engaging in diplomatic negotiations, but he would likely need the blessing of the supreme leader to accomplish that.

In any case next president is looking more of a hardliner On the side of the supreme leader. And while they face pressure at home and abroad to adopt a more conciliatory tone, they may as well double down on their current policies.

Peddling gentle power

As confidence in a diplomatic solution wanes, the United States and its allies are resorting to other means to place pressure on Iran.

Western intelligence services conducted various Information campaigns And Cyber ​​operations The aim is to undermine trust within the Iranian leadership and its strategies for the region.

For example, in 2010 there was a joint American-Israeli cyber operation called Stuxnet compromised the nuclear material enrichment facility in Natanz, Iran, by interfering with and disrupting the conventional operation of the centrifuge while concurrently signaling to operators that they were operating normally.

The exterior view of an industrial building with a sign in front of it.
A heavy water production plant in Arak, Iran.
AP Photo/Fars News Agency

Such operations exist to this present day in response to Iran's failure to deal with US security concerns about nuclear proliferation and its anti-Western activities within the region.

Tehran can also be conducting cyber warfare. In 2023, a US report warned that Iran is prone to increase its use of aggressive cyber operations to attain its political goals. This includes the usage of government-sponsored proxies to spread destructive malware and ransomware.

The Iranian presidential elections are happening against a backdrop of domestic discontent – ​​and offer the West a possibility to make use of one other tactic to place pressure on Tehran: propaganda against the regime.

In order to cut back support for the prevailing government and sow discontent among the many Iranian public, independent radio and news channels supported by the US and its European allies have deliberately the Iranian public with anti-Iranian government messages And increased local protests.

Recourse to sanctions

The Iranian presidential candidates have by and huge promised Easing sanctionspossibly to counter the messages being sent by the West. Such efforts suggest that the candidates are sensitive to the sanctions. disproportionate impact on strange Iranians, especially the center class.

In recent years, the US and Europe have tightened sanctions against Iran for various reasons. Iran's repressive response to the 2022 protests following the death of a young woman, Mahsa Jina Amini, in police custody triggered quite a few sanctions from the European Union. Most recently in April, the USA and Great Britain Sanctions to discourage Iran of the escalation of the conflict within the Middle East and Sale of drones to Russia.

Sanctions comparable to those imposed through the US Maximum Pressure Campaign During Trump's presidency, they’ve undoubtedly exerted pressure on Iran's economic system and trade, and their influence will be seen within the country's high inflation rates and economic downturn.

However, some analysts consider that the campaign has Iran hardens and undermine diplomatic efforts.

Others consider that the sanctions have had no effect, considering Russia And China have provided relief by granting Iran access to their markets.

While the sanctions have demonstrably weakened the Iranian economy, their success in implementing the broader strategy of bringing Iran back to the negotiating table – particularly with regard to its Nuclear program And Regional activities – is less clear.

The use of military means?

Since October 7, 2023, when Hamas militants launched a surprise attack on Israel, the United States has shown a growing willingness to take military motion against the Iran-backed groups.

The most notable Air strikes by the USA and Great Britain occurred in February in retaliation for an earlier drone strike by an Iran-backed group that killed three U.S. soldiers in Jordan.

To date, Western air strikes were more of a symbolic effect and geared toward curbing the provocations supported by Iran. But they display the military power of the USA and its allies.

In recent years, neither diplomacy, sanctions nor soft power have succeeded in bringing the Iranian leadership back to the negotiating table. The recent Iranian president could proceed down the trail of disengagement, but this runs the chance of the West having to tighten its deterrent measures.

image credit : theconversation.com