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Ground Truth Briefing | IRAN: COVID-19, the Oil Crisis and New Tensions with the U.S.

Date & Time

May. 19, 2020
10:00am – 11:00am

Location

By Phone

Ground Truth Briefing | IRAN: COVID-19, the Oil Crisis and New Tensions with the U.S.

The panel discussed the intersection of crises for the Islamic Republic, which was one of the original epicenters of the Covid-19 pandemic. The virus coincided with economic and political challenges that have created a perfect storm for Tehran. Economically, the price of oil has plummeted this year due to a global glut. Iran’s current budget is premised on $50 per barrel of oil with sales of at least 1 million barrels a day. By April 1, the price for Iran heavy, one of its main types of crude, had plummeted to below $14 per barrel; sales were estimated to be under 500,000 barrels because of U.S. sanctions. The pandemic closed businesses across the country, further crippling the economy. Politically, the virus hit just as the Islamic Republic began a year of elections, first for parliament and then the presidency. Critics blame the government for delaying news of the outbreak to allow parliamentary elections to take place in February. But the first deaths, reported on February 19, forced Tehran to delay the runoff from March until September. President Hassan Rouhani’s handling of the health crisis could have a major impact on who runs next year to succeed him and how Iranians vote—and if they vote. Iran faced an unprecedented series of protests in the three years before the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, Iran’s tensions with the United States continue to deepen as the Trump Administration tightens its “maximum pressure” campaign on Tehran.

 

 

Selected Quotes

Robin Wright

"For me, one of the most telling episodes illustrating the crisis for Iran was on National Army Day…This year it was a very different show. This year, the Army Day Parade featured  troops goose-stepping in hazmat suits and face masks. There were columns of ambulances. The flat-bed trucks this year didn’t carry missiles, they had been converted into mobile clinics. And military vehicles were spewing huge clouds of disinfectant into the air. Members of the band performing six feet apart. This year, the President skipped the show. He sent a message instead. He said the enemy now is hidden. And doctors and nurses are at the front lines of the battlefield. Our army is not a symbol of militarism, but a manifestation of supporting the nation and upholding its national interest."

Suzanne Maloney

"Depending on what specifics you believe and the way that the government continues to manage this crisis we’re going to see very high numbers of infected patients in Iran but also casualties. This is, I think, a crisis that really does loom as large as the crisis of the war with Iraq. It’s one that I think is going to have a profound impact on Iran’s demographic trajectory."

"All of this has hastened the collapse of any kind of a meaningful collation representing, what used to be called, the Reform Movement and what has over the course of the past eight years under Rouhani’s president has really been sort of a reform, moderate-wing of the system. There is now open feuding, there is really no clear strategy for making any kind of a serious political comeback as Iranians look forward to presidential elections next year."

Henry Rome

"The Iranians were both unable and unwilling to impose a larger lockdown on society, for these economic reasons. When I say unable, this is, as with many developing countries, Iran faced a very stark choice, which was if it were to shut down the country, shut down the economy, it would then have to take responsibility for social welfare, benefits, ensuring people can eat, in a very… essentially a total way, and like many developing countries Iran simply did not have the logistical or financial capability to do that."

"Now, the Iranian president, President Rohani, proposed his budget at the end of last year in December and over the course of January and February, and into late February, as the pandemic was clearly starting, the government revised that budget and that revision was put into place. And it was in that revision that military spending was dramatically increased... So, I think these decisions indicated that Iran does not intend to let the public health crisis diminish its capacity for domestic repression and foreign intervention."


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Middle East Program

The Wilson Center’s Middle East Program serves as a crucial resource for the policymaking community and beyond, providing analyses and research that helps inform U.S. foreign policymaking, stimulates public debate, and expands knowledge about issues in the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.  Read more

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