A decade of diplomacy, sanctions and nuclear brinkmanship involving Iran and the P5+1/E3+3 (the UN Security Council’s five permanent members plus Germany), led to the 14 July 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This enshrined a core compromise that Crisis Group had advocated since 2003: acceptance of a limited, tightly monitored uranium enrichment program in Iran in return for Iran’s reintegration into the global economy. Despite the JCPOA’s successful first years, tensions and risks of accidental confrontation are growing between the U.S. and Iran, as well as between Iran and U.S. regional allies. Through field research and high-level advocacy, Crisis Group focuses on preserving the JCPOA, and preventing regional tensions from boiling over and turning the nuclear accord into collateral damage.
The 2015 Iran nuclear accord is working, but is at risk from longstanding U.S.-Iran rivalry, Trump administration policies and Tehran’s upsurge of activism in the Middle East. The deal’s other signatories should encourage the U.S. not to withdraw and consider ways to sustain the deal, regardless of U.S. actions and as long as Iran remains committed to it.
U.S. sought commitment from European signatories of 2015 nuclear deal (UK, France and Germany) to address what it sees as flaws in deal in return for renewing U.S. sanctions relief in May, Reuters reported 18 Feb. EU 8 Feb said it could reintroduce “blocking regulations” to protect European firms doing business in Iran if U.S. restores extraterritorial sanctions. Tensions escalated between Iran and Israel. Israel 10 Feb claimed to have shot down Iranian drone, which it said entered Israeli airspace; Iran denied. In response, Israeli jets same day carried out airstrikes in Syria; Syrian anti-aircraft missile shot down one jet on its return, which crashed in northern Israel. Israel launched second, more intense bombing raid on Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria. Israeli PM Netanyahu 18 Feb warned Israel would “if necessary” act against Iran itself, not just its proxies. Members of Sufi order protesting against detention of members clashed with security forces in Tehran 19 Feb, five security force personnel killed. Russia 26 Feb vetoed UN Security Council resolution saying Iran had violated arms embargo on Yemen by supplying weapons to Huthi fighters; next day France, Germany, UK and U.S. in joint statement called on Iran to cease all activities inconsistent with arms embargo on Yemen.
Facts on the ground in Syria are defining the contours of the country’s political future and also the geography of a looming clash between Israel, Hizbollah and other Iran-allied militias. Russia should broker understandings to prevent a new front from opening.
Four years after plunging into Syria’s civil war, Hizbollah has achieved its core aim of preserving the Assad regime. Yet with no clear exit strategy, the Lebanese “Party of God” faces ever greater costs unless it can lower the sectarian flames, open dialogue with non-jihadist rebel groups and help pave the way for a negotiated settlement.
The one-year-old Iran nuclear deal has succeeded in its goal of blocking nuclear proliferation and opening the door to Iranian economic recovery. But it remains in jeopardy unless both Washington and Tehran defend and extend the spirit as well as the letter of the accord.
New frictions in Iraq and Syria threaten Ankara and Tehran’s usually peaceful management of their Middle East rivalries. To rebuild trust and avert open conflict, they should coordinate de-escalation, exchange intelligence and designate representatives to open a new channel between their leaders.
Some in the West hope the nuclear deal with Iran will empower the country’s moderates. But playing Iranian domestic politics directly could backfire. The West should recognise that any change will be gradual, best supported by implementing the nuclear accord, resuming trade, and diplomacy that balances Iranian and Arab interests in the Middle East.
One doesn’t ascend to the pinnacle of power from the position of a virtual underdog in Iran’s politics without having Machiavellian skills. No one could pose a serious challenge to [Ayatollah Khamenei].
[With Mike Pompeo named to replace Rex Tillerson as U.S. secretary state,] now you have the appointment of someone who has made it an article of faith that the Iran deal needs to be ripped up.
The Israeli government’s assessment is that Hezbollah/Iranian presence near the armistice line [in the Golan Heights] is bound to lead to the establishment of offensive infrastructure in the area.
After the nuclear deal, in 2015, Putin worried about rapprochement between Iran and the U.S. A lot has changed. Russia is now Iran’s most important and powerful ally.
The only thing that would satisfy the [U.S.] administration is for the Europeans to jointly commit to violate the [2015 nuclear] deal by agreeing to sanctions on Iran.
[The Trump administration] is content allowing Israel to take the lead in pushing back against Iranian and Hezbollah influence in Syria.
But following the hostilities over the weekend, does Putin want to?
Originally published in The Atlantic
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post
Insisting on a “better” agreement, and threatening to walk away, is a recipe for no deal at all.
Originally published in Foreign Affairs