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Opinion: With chaos in the streets of Iran, here's how the US could help the Iranian people

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Again Iranians have flooded the streets of their country to participate in widespread protests fueled by price increases for gasoline, but then a brutal approach. But it was clear that the unrest was more than the price of gas, due to deeper frustration and anger about the general economic slump caused by a corrupt, repressive government and punitive American sanctions.

During the protests, US officials, including Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, went to Twitter to express solidarity with the Iranian demonstrators, even tweeting in Persian and to encourage the reporting of human rights violations by government officials involved in violent actions.

But given current US policy, such expressions of sympathy for the Iranian people may be difficult to take seriously. In addition to rhetorical support, there are a number of concrete steps that the United States could take if concern for the Iranian people is a real priority, as it should be.

The Trump government could withdraw the restoration of secondary sanctions against Iran, which were imposed after the unilateral withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement in 2018. Although the sanctions may have been intended to bring Iran back to the negotiating table for a better deal, a new agreement still needs to be reached.

In addition, the campaign has & # 39; maximum pressure & # 39; of the government of unprecedented economic sanctions against Iran hurt the Iranian people more than the Iranian leadership.

Iranian leaders have stepped up aggressive regional policy in response to US pressure that has seriously curtailed Iranian oil exports – including the brutal attack on the facilities of state oil company Saudi Aramco in September and the shooting of an American military drone in the Strait of Hormuz in June .

Meanwhile, the pressure is contributing to rising inflation and unemployment in Iran. The devaluation of the Iranian currency affects the savings of average Iranians and leads to prohibitively high costs of living. The sanctions also have serious humanitarian consequences. Human Rights Reports suggest that, despite exemptions for imports of humanitarian aid, bank restrictions caused by US sanctions prevent Iran from financing such imports, leading to shortages of drugs for the treatment of rare diseases and multiple forms of cancer.

The US can change course and allow the rest of the world to conduct commercial and financial transactions with Iran. Relaxing secondary sanctions against close American allies in Europe and Asia could also create a more supportive international environment to put pressure on should Iran further abandon its nuclear obligations, especially since Iran would have no justification if it had economic benefits promised in the original agreement.

While some in the Trump government may still hope that sufficient economic pressure will lead to the collapse of the regime, a different approach may try to improve the prospects for a new negotiation process with Iran, which Trump sometimes has seemed to support.

The administration would also lift the travel ban for Iranians who want to come to the United States. The ban has proved to be one of the most destructive policies that harm average Iranians, many of whom were unable to see relatives or seek medical help in the United States due to the restrictions. The ban has also reduced the ability of Iranian students to seek training in the US, precisely the type of next-generation Iranians who can help promote a more positive relationship between the US and Iran in the future. Although the travel ban should exempt Iranians seeking student and non-immigrant visas, there are many applicants are blocked to enter the country.

In addition, the travel ban and associated policies have begun to dispel traditionally positive views of the United States with recent poll which shows that 86% of Iranians now view the US unfavorably. If helping the Iranian people is an important goal, lifting the travel ban would be one of the most important steps that this government could take – for both humanitarian and interest-based reasons.

Finally, in an attempt to shut down Iranians from communication inside and outside the country, the Iranian government shut down the internet for five days after the public protest began in mid-November, a drastic movement intended to increase the ability of the demonstrators to organize against the government. And yet the Iranian leadership maintained access to the internet during the shutdown. The United States has imposed sanctions on property for the Iranian Minister of Information due to the closure, but in the absence of wider US support for Iranians, the move is likely to be seen as a mere gesture that Iranians have access to the outside world.

The efforts of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to encourage unhindered Iranian access to the Internet, including support for efforts by ordinary Iranian citizens to circumvent these restrictions on access to information, is a step in the right direction, especially if it is followed in conjunction with other measures to reduce the pressure on the Iranian people.

Iranians are protesting for better governance that the well-being of the Iranian people should be made a priority over the government's costly regional involvement and the enrichment of established leaders. For this reason, Iranians deserve American support.

Instead, current US policies are harming the cause the Iranian people are fighting for and failing to achieve strategic goals. If the US pursues a policy aimed at creating a better future for the Iranian people, they may have the added benefit of producing less dangerous Iranian government policies than we have seen under the mantra of maximum pressure.

Dalia Dassa Kaye is a senior political scientist and director of the Center for Middle East Public Policy at Rand Corp.

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