Conservatives won big in Iran’s February legislative election. Disqualification of rivals, low turnout and coordination among factions may portend their victory in the 2021 presidential contest as well. Should an opportunity arise to reduce U.S.-Iranian tensions between now and then, it should be seized.
Originally published in POMEPS Studies
Crisis Group's Interactive Iran-U.S. Trigger List
Amid ongoing U.S. “maximum pressure” campaign on Tehran, tensions over implementation of 2015 nuclear deal continued while sensitive Iranian facilities suffered spate of incidents. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell 3 July announced receipt of Iranian letter triggering Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action’s (JCPOA) Dispute Resolution Mechanism; Iran foreign ministry same day said move was motivated by last month’s resolution from International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) submitted by France, Germany and UK (E3) urging Iranian cooperation on agency access requests and E3’s “continued non-abidance” with their JCPOA commitments; Borrell 17 July announced extension of resolution mechanism timeline. Meanwhile, IAEA director general 15 July underscored “absolute necessity” for Iran to cooperate on agency access to two sites of concern; discussions with Tehran ongoing. Washington continued diplomatic efforts to garner support for Security Council resolution extending UN arms embargo on Iran due to expire in Oct 2020. Following late June explosions in “public area” of Parchin and at medical centre in Tehran that killed 19, Iran suffered spate of further incidents, including 2 July blast at Natanz nuclear facility, 15 July combustion of more than six ships at Bushehr shipyard and 19 July explosion at Isfahan power plant. Iranian officials confirmed Natanz incident caused “significant damage” and warned of response if foreign govt responsible, while Israel’s defence minister Benny Gantz 5 July said Israel was not “necessarily” behind every incident in Iran; while unconfirmed, incidents at sensitive sites hint at possibility of new, covert phase of “maximum pressure” campaign by U.S. and/or its regional allies. U.S. military 23 July reported “visual inspection” of Iranian airliner over Syria; Iranian officials described incident as “illegal and dangerous”. Iran continued to struggle with COVID-19 pandemic: authorities 28 July reported deadliest day to date with 235 deaths; economically, rial currency continued to lose value through most of month.
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.
Today’s standoff between the U.S. and Iran is reminiscent of tensions on the eve of World War I. A small incident could blow up into region-spanning conflict. Third-party mediation is urgently needed to begin de-escalation that could lead to renewing broader talks.
Remarkably, the Iran nuclear deal has survived the Trump administration’s withdrawal. Now it must weather 2019, its year of greatest peril, as mounting U.S. pressure tests Iranian patience. With Europe’s help, Tehran must keep sticking to the agreement in anticipation of sunnier times ahead.
Depriving Tehran from having access to the arms market will compel Iran to double down on its support for proxies and its ballistic missiles program.
The Iranians are keen on demonstrating to the U.S. that the COVID crisis has neither debilitated them nor has altered their strategic calculus.
[The Trump administration] think[s] that the timeline for bringing Iran to its knees has shortened because of the coronavirus.
[The sanctions] are a testament to this administration's doctrinal belief in the effectiveness of sanctions to bring Iran to its knees.
The Iranian leadership knows that if it curbs the [International Atomic Energy Agency’s] inspections, it will lose the support of all the remaining parties to the JCPOA.
The coronavirus has basically done what the Trump administration’s sanctions failed to do: effectively completely isolated Iran.
Washington and Tehran could use the public health emergency to show goodwill, dial down tensions while saving face, and avoid a dangerous confrontation.
Originally published in Foreign Policy
To help justify its coercive measures against the Islamic Republic, Washington often evokes Iranian women’s struggles for inclusion and equality. But evidence from today’s Iran shows that U.S. policies are instead contributing to holding women back.
U.S.-Iranian clashes have pushed the JCPOA to the brink of collapse. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2020 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to use their economic and diplomatic power to keep Iran in compliance with the JCPOA and prevent Iraq from being sucked further into the conflict.
Since 1979, Iran has been subjected to a steady stream of sanctions. Under the Trump administration, their depth and breadth have dramatically increased in the U.S. campaign of "maximum pressure". This interactive infographic illustrates all the major unilateral U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran since 2017 by year, type and location.