There is only one way to understand the list of conditions U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave to the Iranians: America means to push for a regime change in Iran.
Maybe the American administration did not admit this, but we can assume that Washington knows full well that no Iranian regime—and certainly, not the current one—would agree to the 12 demands. In the same vein, Pompeo might as well have demanded that Iran holds free and democratic elections or stops enforcing Islamic dress code in public spaces.
The Iranian regime cannot agree to these demands. First of all, this is because some of them, such as shifting its approach to Israel and ceasing its support of terrorist organizations, are completely contrary to the regime’s DNA, requiring a perversion of Islamic Revolution values unacceptable to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Second, the Iranian leadership sees Pompeo’s presentation of demands as additional proof of Iran’s standpoint that the sole goal of the United States is to replace the Islamic regime.
Third, the fulfillment of some of these demands requires Iran to dismantle assets that, in the regime’s eyes, are a security guarantee of their continued survival, such as long-range missiles and the option to use nuclear technology for military purposes. Iranian willingness to give up these capabilities, particularly at a time when it has conditions placed on it in the context of an escalating U.S. threat, is unreasonable even under heightened economic pressure.
The American administration currently striving for regime change comes as no surprise. National Security Adviser John Bolton—known as a staunch supporter of regime change in Iran—even maintains open ties with the Iranian resistance abroad. But a regime change requires recruiting the Iranian public to take down its leaders unless the American administration intends to drag the country into another Middle Eastern war and force a regime change on Iran through military means, including a land invasion.
The process of change in Iranian society depends on its potential for political change. Increasing the economic pressure through more crippling sanctions will likely strengthen popular protest.
Washington possibly hopes that the faltering Iranian economy and protracted public protest will create an opportunity for the regime to fall. All that is needed is to increase the pressure on Iran. Although the Americans’ hope may be realized, those who base strategy on hopes risk discovering their hopes to be false.
Dr. Raz Zimmt is a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies and the Alliance Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University.