Why the Protests Won’t Change Iran’s Foreign Policy

State Sponsorship of Terrorism Will Continue

People protest in Tehran, Iran in December 2017 in in this picture obtained from social media by REUTERS. REUTERS

On December 28, 2017, protests broke out in Mashhad, a city in northeastern Iran. By the time the rest of the world was celebrating the advent of a new year, major demonstrations had spread to cities and towns across the country. By January 2, over 20 people had been killed amid the unrest. As Iranian officials scrambled to respond to the largest demonstrations since the 2009 Green Movement—a wave of protests over the fraudulent reelection of hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency—U.S. President Donald Trump took to Twitter to express his own thoughts on what was taking place.

According to Trump, the Iranian people are sick of the regime’s sponsorship of terrorism, which chips away at their wealth. As the president put it, “Many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with regime’s corruption & its squandering of the nation’s wealth to fund terrorism abroad. Iranian govt should respect their people’s rights, including right to express themselves. The world is watching!” This talking point has since dominated U.S. officials’ and lawmakers’ remarks on the developments in Iran. As White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders put it, Trump would “certainly like to see [Iran] stop being a state sponsor of terror. I think that’s something the whole world would like to see.”

However much the United States and its allies would like the protests to yield a dramatic shift in Iranian policy, the reality is that the Iranian government is unlikely to change course. Indeed, the administration and observers must adjust their hopes and expectations of what the protesters can achieve.

Iran’s ties to terrorist groups and other non-state actors in its neighborhood are not only a matter of ideology, or even economics. To be sure, in the early days of the Islamic Republic, the revolutionaries sought to establish relations with various Shiite groups and to challenge what they viewed as corrupt regimes akin to the one they had just overthrown. But today, such relationships

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