By Raj Eli Zalla
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Iran offering to exchange prisoners with Western countries this week is one of many indicators that it is starting to feel real pressure amid US sanctions on the Islamic Republic and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), hinted American analyst Michael Pregent.
“Now we aren’t going to give you 23 prisoners for two prisoners like we did under the Obama administration,” he said during a weekly segment of The Washington Perspective.
Pregent strongly favors US President Trump’s pressure policy towards Iran over his predecessor’s.
“We aren’t going to send you $1.4 billion in cash to get four Americans released from prison and give you an additional 23 that were put in jail by the FBI for trying to proliferate weapons and materials to be used in a nuclear program,” he said.
“So this is a different administration.”
Pregent is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute based in Washington, D.C. He specializes in intelligence, terrorism and radical ideologies, Middle East and North Africa defense strategy.
He credits Iran for using its influence where possible in the region.
“The Islamic Republic is very smart on how to do these things. They can link an electric grid in southern Iraq in order to tie Iraq’s infrastructure to Iran’s, to make harder for the US to punish Iraq,” he said.
Pregent believes the United States can influence regional powers like NATO-ally Turkey to serve the traditional role as a bulwark against Iran.
“What better way to curb malign Iranian influence in the region than to stop buying their oil,” he said.
Pregent, who labels Trump as a “transactional president,” believes the sanctions will also boost Moscow’s economy.
“Russia is going to be able to benefit from the sanctions as well, and I love the irony … from a US President,” he said. “Anytime you can supplant Iranian oil on the market, it always benefits those other countries.”
The official US stance is not regime change in Iran, but increasing pressure against the regime, so its own people hold Tehran accountable.
“We want to make Iran’s economy toxic,” he claimed, “the regime’s economy toxic for foreign investment from traditional oil traders or oil consumers, clients…
“The people in Iran are not condemning or blaming the United States for this. They are blaming their regime.”
Pregent provided examples of Iranian officials including IRGC leader Gen. Qassem Soleimani visiting flood-damaged areas of the country. He also claimed that top Iranian officials are now being briefed daily on the prices of chicken and eggs due to the devaluing of the toman and rise in the cost of goods.
Domestically, Pregent sees it in the interest of Iran for a Democrat to win the 2020 US presidential election.
“Everyone who is running for president so far who is asked about the Iran deal on the Democrat’s side, say they are going to enter the Iran deal — without conditions — just re-enter, in the hopes that Iran through the sunset clause will come back to Iran deal and negotiate,” he argued.
Can the Iranian regime survive the next 20 months of the Trump presidency?
“I don’t know.”
Can they survive six more years of Trump?
“No,” Pregent staunchly prognosticated, “especially if the maximum pressure campaign continues.”