Originally published in The New York Times
Originally published in World Politics Review
Crisis Group's Interactive Iran-U.S. Trigger List
Sixth round of nuclear talks made progress while UN temporary inspections agreement into nuclear sites expired with unclear next steps; Ebrahim Raisi elected president. Following sixth round of indirect U.S.-Iran negotiations in Austrian capital Vienna held 12-20 June, Iran’s lead negotiator Abbas Araghchi 20 June announced “we are closer to an agreement than ever” while U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan same day remarked there remained “a fair distance to travel”; it remains to be seen if agreement will emerge in remaining five weeks of Rouhani administration. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi 7 June briefed board of governors, emphasising Iran’s lack of cooperation on addressing safeguards concerns at four undeclared nuclear sites. Arrangement concluded in Feb on facilitating continued IAEA monitoring of Iranian nuclear activity expired 24 June; IAEA next day called for “immediate response” on status of technical understanding, but Tehran had yet to agree on extension by end of month. Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant 21 June underwent electricity shutdown due to “technical problem”; Iranian media 23 June reported “an act of sabotage” against building owned by the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran. Regarding sanctions, U.S. Treasury 10 June blacklisted “members of smuggling network” allegedly linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards-Quds Force and Huthis in Yemen and same day removed sanctions on five individuals and entities, citing “verified change in behaviour or status”. Treasury 17 June published COVID-19-related general licenses clarifying scope of humanitarian transactions with Iran. U.S. Justice Dept 22 June announced seizure of 33 websites linked to Iranian media. Following passage of two Iranian vessels late May suspectedly bound for Venezuela, U.S. State Dept 10 June warned Tehran against transfering weapons or illicit materials to Caracas. Meanwhile, ahead of presidential election 18 June, three of seven candidates pulled out of race; electoral authorities 19 June announced victory for judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi who won 61.9% of vote, with voter turnout at 48.8% - lowest in Islamic Republic’s history; Raisi will take office as Iran’s eighth president 3 August.
The 2015 nuclear deal enters 2021 clinging to life, having survived the Trump administration’s withdrawal and Iran’s breaches of its commitments. When the Biden administration takes office, Washington and Tehran should move quickly and in parallel to revive the agreement on its original terms.
The Trump administration continues its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, now with an attempt to restore pre-2015 UN sanctions, a right reserved for signatories to the nuclear deal it abandoned. Other UN Security Council members should disregard this gambit and urge Tehran not to overreact.
Naval incidents in the Gulf have spotlighted the danger that a U.S.-Iranian skirmish could blow up into war. The two sides have little ability to communicate at present. They should hasten to design a military-to-military channel to lower the chances of inadvertent conflagration.
COVID-19 is ravaging Iran, due to government mismanagement exacerbated by the effects of U.S. sanctions. Instead of pointing fingers at each other, and again risking heightened military confrontation, Tehran and Washington should pursue humanitarian diplomacy aimed at containing the virus and releasing detainees.
Prospects for the 2015 nuclear deal’s survival are dimming, as Washington tightens its sanctions, Tehran loosens its compliance, U.S.-Iranian clashes pick up in intensity and European powers crack down on agreement breaches. Third-party mediation is likely required to stave off the accord’s demise.
Should U.S.-Iranian tensions escalate to a shooting war, Iraq would likely be the first battleground. Washington and Tehran should stop trying to drag Baghdad into their fight. The Iraqi government should redouble its efforts to remain neutral and safeguard the country’s post-ISIS recovery.
I’m afraid if the deal is not restored by August, [...] a return to the JCPOA might become a moot question. At that point the parties would probably have to negotiate a new nuclear deal.
[Restoring the Iran nuclear deal is] a fragile process. If a single American is killed [by Iran’s rocket attacks in Iraq], the whole process is derailed.
It’s very clear there is an organized onslaught by opponents of the JCPOA in Iran, against reviving the deal under the Rouhani administration.
I think [the new Iran-China deal] will make Europe and the U.S. a little more nervous because it looks like Iran may have a way out of economic strangulation.
The [recent] U.S. [air strikes in Syria were] aimed at a relatively insignificant target in an area where Iran's hands are somewhat tied.
The fact is that everybody at the UN believes this (resolution) is just a prelude to a US effort to trigger snapback and sink the Iranian nuclear deal.
Originally published in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
As Israeli strikes on Iran-linked targets in Syria continue, there is always a risk that occasional spikes of violence could escalate into a broader confrontation.
Originally published in Middle East Eye
Originally published in Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN)
Originally published in Arms Control Association