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Trump Must Decide Soon Whether To Reinstate Sanctions Against Iran

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump soon faces a deadline. He's got to decide whether to reinstate sanctions against Iran, sanctions that were lifted as part of the Iran nuclear deal. And the president has to make this decision against this backdrop of a deadly crackdown on protests inside Iran. We're going to talk about all this with NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre, who's in the studio this morning. Good morning, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: First off, just explain exactly what decision the president has to make here.

MYRE: Well, the sanctions were lifted - some of the U.S. sanctions were lifted in 2015 with the nuclear deal. But every four months, the president - first Obama, now Trump - has to decide whether he wants to keep these sanctions suspended or reinstate them. And this four-month deadline is coming up around the middle of the month here. And Trump has twice gone ahead and continued the suspension, waived the sanctions.

But now with the protest, it's sort of raising the issue of whether he wants to take a hardline action here. But this would have a significant impact because the Iranians would immediately be upset, claim that the terms of the nuclear deal have been violated and would potentially risk unraveling the whole nuclear deal.

MARTIN: Can you explain the connection, if any, between the nuclear deal and what is happening with the protests in Iran?

MYRE: Sure. In Iran, there was the notion that the sanctions were the cause of their economic problems. So when they were lifted, there was this expectation that the economy would get much better. And it just really hasn't for ordinary Iranians. Also, we saw something just in the last month - details of the government budget came out in a much more public way than they have previously. And we saw how much money was being spent on religious institutions and security institutions. So this has provoked a lot of anger and a lot of criticism that so much money is being spent on this part of the - in this area, rather than on the needs of individuals.

MARTIN: Yeah. So are these protests - is there any way to know if these protests are changing the way that the Trump administration thinks about the dynamics playing out in Iran?

MYRE: You know, it certainly does challenge this notion that Iran has been ascendant and is becoming more and more powerful throughout the region without any cost to itself. We've seen the protesters in numerous places chanting things like, leave Syria alone. Get out of Lebanon, out of Gaza. And these are places where Iran is heavily invested and has made a big push and has publicized this. But it shows that - you know, that there's been a big cost there. And the Iranian government also is very fearful that this turmoil in the region could come to Iran. And I spoke with Abbas Milani, who teaches Iranian studies at Stanford University. Here's how he put it.

ABBAS MILANI: The regime has made it very clear. In the past, they have made almost direct threats - that if we are challenged at home, we will do to Iran what we have done or what we have helped do in Syria.

MYRE: Iran really is surrounded by all these conflicts, and that plays a very significant role in their thinking here.

MARTIN: Right. So whenever there's some kind of political unrest in Iran, it often sparks talk outside of Iran about the fall of the government. Is that at all realistic?

MYRE: Not really, no. Two conflicting ideas to keep in mind about Iran - the mullahs have been in power for almost 40 years now, and they have not delivered. And this has left people very frustrated. But they still hold the levers of power. And they've been able to put down uprisings in the past - and no evidence that they are in imminent danger right now.

MARTIN: NPR's Greg Myre. Thanks so much, Greg.

MYRE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.