Beijing and Moscow Meet Most Clearly in Tehran
The Iranian regime is under greater domestic pressure than at any point since the Green Revolution. Although their proximate cause was the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, almost certainly at the hands of the Iranian Morality Police, the issues run far deeper. Tehran’s hybrid theocracy is not popular, and an aging Ali Khamenei is a particular figure of popular distaste.
Iran will not collapse due to these protests. Its Revolutionary Guards are robust enough to control public dissent, and the regime is ruthless enough to crack down by any means. Nevertheless, the protests are likely to trigger a variety of regime actions that align Iran fully within the Sino-Russian entente. Moscow and Beijing intersect most openly in Tehran: the US should take note and treat Iran with the seriousness it deserves as a strategic adversary.
Recall that just a month ago, the Biden administration seemed to believe a deal was imminent, much as it was at various points in late 2021 and 2022. The Biden White House doggedly searches for the chimerical Iran Deal, the deal that the Obama administration proclaimed would prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon. This stems from Washington’s characteristic determinism. Personnel is policy, and the Biden team is packed full of the Iran deal’s greatest proponents. The Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, was the US’ lead negotiator. The Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Colin Kahl, participated in the negotiations and a major public advocate for the deal. John Kerry remains affiliated with the administration as Biden’s climate envoy: he was the Secretary of State responsible for the JCPOA.
Events are likely to outpace Mr. Biden’s hopes. The recent round of protests makes nuclear breakout far more likely, as Iran seeks a shield from external meddling despite the regime’s apparent weakness. Nuclear weapons are dictatorial insurance par excellence, as the radically diverging experiences of Gaddafi and Saddam on the one side, and the Kim family regime on the other, have convincingly demonstrated. Perhaps Israel and its Gulf Arab partners preempt a breakout attempt, perhaps not, but regardless the JCPOA is increasingly nonsensical.
More broadly, however, Iran has become the primary link within the Sino-Russian entente. A better understanding of Tehran’s relationship with both Beijing and Moscow is needed to identify the full scale of the entente.
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