Intel: Why the Trump administration suddenly cares about Iran’s poor environmental record

al-monitor A general view shows smog over northwestern Tehran, Nov. 23, 2010. Photo by REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi.

Oct 4, 2018

After withdrawing from the Paris climate pact and gutting the EPA, the Donald Trump administration is suddenly obsessed with the sorry state of Iran’s environment.

The State Department’s hawkish Iran Action Group devotes an entire chapter to the topic in its new report on the “outlaw regime,” including environmental exploitation by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Secretary of State Mike Pompeo quipped that Tehran is “more concerned with heavy water than drinking water” during a Sept. 25 appearance at the United Against Nuclear Iran summit in New York.

The rhetoric has been roundly mocked by skeptics of the administration’s “green” credentials, but it makes perfect sense, as the administration seeks as many avenues as possible for undermining the regime.

“Environmental activism has increasingly emerged as a mostly non-political, non-factional outlet for dissent in recent years, which the IRGC in particular has cracked down on,” Al-Monitor’s Iran Pulse editor Mohammad Shabani explained.

“Longstanding issues such as the drying up of Lake Urmia, wildlife conservation, etc., have gained greater urgency in the public debate both due to the activism but also the crackdowns, Shabani said.

Why it matters: The Iran Action Group was formed in August to spearhead the Trump administration’s “campaign of pressure, deterrence, and solidarity with the long-suffering Iranian people.” Exploiting Iranian grievances while making sure Tehran gets the lion’s share of the blame as US sanctions bite has been a key part of that strategy.

“Thanks to the regime’s failed policies, the Iranian people are battling drastic water shortages and environmental crises throughout their nation,” Pompeo said last week. “Last year, Iran’s own energy minister said that 295 cities are facing droughts and water shortages. Meanwhile, the regime has spent untold billions of dollars on a nuclear program that has extended now over years.”

What’s next: With sweeping sanctions on Iran’s energy sector resuming next month, expect the rhetorical fight between Washington and Tehran over who has the Iranian people’s best interest at heart to kick into high gear. It will be especially worth watching whether the US campaign backfires against apolitical environmentalists.

Know more: Be sure to check out Maysam Bizaer’s extensive coverage of environmental issues over on Al-Monitor's Iran Pulse for a fuller view of the issue. Also, don’t miss Shaghayegh Rostampour’s upcoming story about the devastating wildfires consuming the Hawizeh marshes straddling the Iran-Iraq border. Barbara Slavin also has a must-read analysis of how the Trump administration’s cuts to cultural and scientific exchanges with Iran threaten environmental progress.

- Julian Pecquet

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