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 U.S. is threatening to withdraw from the international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program if no one “fixes” it by President Donald Trump’s deadline of 12 May. The danger of deeper Middle East turmoil is great. Europe should salvage the deal no matter what Trump decides.
U.S. President Trump withdrew from Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) 8 May, increasing risk of confrontation between U.S. and Iran and their respective allies in coming weeks. In days preceding 8 May, leaders of E3 (France, Germany and UK) visited Washington to try to persuade Trump to remain in deal. Withdrawal started countdown to reimposition of U.S. nuclear-related sanctions on Iran waived under deal, with wind-down periods of 90 or 180 days. U.S. Treasury 15 May announced new sanctions against Iranian individuals, notably Central Bank governor. U.S. Sec State Pompeo 21 May outlined plan to implement “strongest sanctions in history”. Deal’s remaining signatories began efforts to convince Iran to remain committed to it. E3 issued joint statement 8 May regretting Trump’s decision and reiterating support for JCPOA. Iranian FM Zarif met E3 counterparts and EU foreign policy chief Mogherini in Brussels 15 May. EU 18 May announced steps to preserve European business in Iran, including European Investment Bank funding for Iran-related financing and oil payments. Zarif described preliminary discussions in Beijing, Moscow and Brussels as “positive start”. Israeli govt claimed to have hit all Iranian infrastructure in Syria in airstrikes 10 May, reportedly killing 23; Israel said attacks were response to Iran firing rockets at Israeli forces in Golan Heights between Syria and Israel (see Syria). Protests in Kazeroon, west of Shiraz, over plans to divide city in two, left one dead 17 May. Morocco cut ties with Iran 1 May, accusing govt and Lebanese Shiite movement Hizbollah of training and providing weaponry to Western Sahara independence movement Polisario Front.
Saudi Arabia has been forging links to Iraq since reopening its Baghdad embassy in 2016. Its adversary Iran has strong Iraqi ties. If Riyadh avoids antagonising Tehran, invests wisely and quiets anti-Shiite rhetoric, Iraq can be a bridge between the rival powers - not a battleground.
Divergent views of Iran’s ambitions are driving proxy wars from Syria to Yemen. To stop disastrous direct confrontation, it is crucial to close the perception gap and that Iran and its adversaries take mutual steps toward de-escalating tensions.
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.
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.
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.
Europe should [try to save the Iran nuclear deal] not because it has economic interests in Iran, which are quite negligible, but because it is in its own security interest. Without the nuclear deal, Iran will either obtain a nuclear bomb or will be bombed. Both of these outcomes will adversely affect Europe, who will feel the impact through more refugee flows and radicalisation.
From the perspective of the leadership in Tehran, Iran and Europe against the US is a much better scenario than the U.S. and Europe against Iran.
It took 13 years of a nuclear standoff with Iran to get a deal. It would be a pity to lose it as a result of something that could at the end of the day be considered a rough patch.
We need the [Iran nuclear] deal to verify [Prime Minister Netanyahu's] claims, without it Iran can do whatever it wants.
La Russie exprime de plus en plus son insatisfaction au sujet du conflit entre l’Iran et Israël en Syrie. Les Russes suggèrent à l’Iran, s’ils veulent agir contre Israël, de le faire ailleurs qu’en Syrie.
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].
The key question is whether the sum total of what Europe can offer Iran is sufficiently robust – financially and symbolically – to give those in Iran who argue for restraint and continued engagement a chance.
Originally published in euronews
But following the hostilities over the weekend, does Putin want to?
Originally published in The Atlantic
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post