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A decade of diplomacy, sanctions and nuclear brinkmanship involving Iran and the UN Security Council’s five permanent members (plus Germany) led to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This accord 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 that country’s reintegration into the global economy. Despite the JCPOA’s successful first years, the U.S. withdrew from the deal in 2018, putting it at risk of collapse while raising the danger of conflict between Tehran, Washington and their respective allies. Through field research and high-level advocacy, Crisis Group focuses on salvaging the JCPOA and preventing regional tensions from boiling over.

Crisis Group's Interactive Iran-U.S. Trigger List
Crisis Group's Interactive Iran-U.S. Trigger List

Crisis Group's Interactive Iran-U.S. Trigger List

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CrisisWatch Iran

Unchanged Situation

Tehran struck last-minute understanding with UN nuclear watchdog regarding access to surveillance equipment, deferring diplomatic showdown with U.S. and European powers. Iranian nuclear activity continued as indirect U.S.-Iran talks on mutual compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal remained deadlocked, marking three months since last round in June. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) quarterly report 7 Sept noted continued growth in Iranian uranium stockpiles enriched to 20% and 60%, shrinking breakout period to perhaps as little as one month. Concerns over nuclear activity raised prospect during month of possible censure resolution against Tehran by U.S. and/or European signatories of nuclear deal at IAEA Board of Governors’ meeting held mid-Sept; President Raisi 8 Sept warned that “non-constructive actions” at IAEA “naturally disrupt the negotiation process”. Amid flurry in diplomatic activity, IAEA chief Rafael Grossi 11 Sept visited Tehran and secured stop-gap three-point agreement granting agency access to its monitoring equipment, forestalling risk of censure resolution. At IAEA Board of Governors meeting, Grossi 13 Sept nonetheless raised concern over Iran’s cooperation, saying verification and monitoring activities were severely inhibited and Tehran had done little to address probe into past activities at four undeclared sites. IAEA 26 Sept indicated that Iran had denied UN body access at Karaj facility, “contrary to the agreed terms”; Iran’s IAEA representative 27 Sept insisted site was “under security and judicial investigations” to justify exclusion. U.S. Treasury Dept 3 Sept sanctioned four Iranians indicted in July 2021 for plotting kidnapping of U.S.-based journalist. U.S. 17 Sept unveiled tranche of designations against “members of an international network of financial facilitators” linked to Iran’s Islamic Rev-olutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Meanwhile, IRGC fired missiles at targets inside Iraq’s Kurdistan region (see Iraq). Raisi 16-17 Sept attended Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit, where he announced Iran would join organisation as full member after receiving observer status in 2005.

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Reports & Briefings

In The News

22 Sep 2021
[Iranian President] Raisi’s harsh denunciation of the United States doesn’t suggest that Iran is prepared to demonstrate the kind of flexibility that is needed to restore the JCPOA. The National

Ali Vaez

Senior Adviser to the President & Project Director, Iran
2 Aug 2021
So the majority of the [Iranian] population is either disillusioned with the system or, at this point, completely alienated, and we have huge parts of the society that almost have nothing to lose. Foreign Policy

Ali Vaez

Senior Adviser to the President & Project Director, Iran
17 Jun 2021
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. The Hill

Ali Vaez

Senior Adviser to the President & Project Director, Iran
9 May 2021
[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. The New York Times

Ali Vaez

Senior Adviser to the President & Project Director, Iran
4 May 2021
It’s very clear there is an organized onslaught by opponents of the JCPOA in Iran, against reviving the deal under the Rouhani administration. The Washington Post

Ali Vaez

Senior Adviser to the President & Project Director, Iran
27 Mar 2021
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 Wall Street Journal

Dina Esfandiary

Senior Advisor, Middle East and North Africa

Latest Updates

EU Watch List / Global

Watch List 2021 – Autumn Update

Every year Crisis Group publishes two additional Watch List updates that complement its annual Watch List for the EU, most recently published in January 2021. These publications identify major crises and conflict situations where the European Union and its member states can generate stronger prospects for peace. The Autumn Update of the Watch List 2021 includes entries on Afghanistan, Burundi, Iran, Nagorno-Karabakh and Nicaragua.

Iran Navigates the World

In his prologue to The Geopolitics of Iran, edited by Francisco José B. S. Leandro, Carlos Branco, and Flavius Caba-Maria, our Middle East expert Joost Hiltermann says policymakers should come to grips with the country's lived experience to understand why dialogue and diplomacy are the best way to deal with the Islamic Republic.

Commentary / Asia

With the Taliban Back in Kabul, Regional Powers Watch and Wait

The Taliban’s return to power raises questions not only about how the movement will use its newfound authority but also about what Afghanistan’s neighbours will do in response. Crisis Group experts offer a 360-degree view of these countries’ initial reactions and what is behind them.

Engaging Iran Remains Vital after Presidential Election

Iran’s new president, Ebrahim Raisi, represents the hardliners within the Islamic Republic. In this Q&A, Crisis Group experts Ali Vaez and Naysan Rafati explain why the U.S. should nevertheless persist in working to restore the 2015 nuclear deal to its full promise.

Our People

Ali Vaez

Senior Adviser to the President & Project Director, Iran

Naysan Rafati

Senior Analyst, Iran