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.

CrisisWatch Iran

Unchanged Situation

De-escalatory understandings between U.S. and Iran began to take shape, underscoring potential for sustained mutual restraint on nuclear and regional fronts, but maritime tensions remained elevated.

First evidence emerged of U.S.-Iran de-escalation. U.S. 10 Aug confirmed Iran’s release of five U.S. nationals from prison to house arrest. Iran’s deputy FM same day indicated that frozen Iranian assets in South Korea were in process of being released, along with “several Iranians who were illegally detained in America”; assets, estimated at around $6bn, will be held in Qatar, where they be available for non-sanctionable humanitarian trade. Additionally, U.S. media reports mid-Aug indicated Tehran had tapered growth of its enriched uranium stockpiling at highest end, while major attacks on U.S. and allied forces by Iranian/Iran-backed groups in Iraq and Syria appeared to be in lull.

Tensions in maritime domain persisted. After U.S. throughout July announced series of military deployments to Gulf region, various media outlets 3 Aug reported Washington was in advanced deliberations about possibility of dispatching U.S. forces aboard commercial vessels that request it. U.S. 6 Aug announced arrival of 3,000 forces in region facilitating “greater flexibility and maritime capability”; next day Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps warned Iran would “respond in kind to any U.S. action and mischief, including the seizure of ships”. U.S., EU and UK naval authorities 12 Aug alerted commercial vessels of unspecified threat and advised distance from Iranian waters.

Normalisation with Saudi Arabia continued. After Iranian officials 13 Aug reported reopening of Saudi consulate in Mashhad, FM Hossein Amir-Abdollahian 17-18 Aug travelled to Saudi Arabia for meetings with his Saudi counterpart and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Amir-Abdollahian described meetings as “frank, beneficial and productive” (see Saudi Arabia).

Western sanctions mounted. Canada 8 Aug sanctioned seven Iranian individuals, including secretary of Supreme National Security Council, citing their involvement “in activities that gravely threaten international peace and security or that constitute gross and systemic violations of human rights”. UK same day blacklisted nearly dozen Iranian persons and organisations as part of set of 25 designations of foreign entities giving military support to Russia.

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In The News

18 Sep 2023
The Iranians seem reluctant to give away most of their leverage to restore the nuclear deal not knowing who the next U.S. president will be. The Washington Post

Ali Vaez

Senior Adviser to the President & Project Director, Iran
3 Jun 2023
[US President Joe] Biden is in an election cycle, and the types of sanctions relief Iran is seeking won’t pass muster with the Congress. Al-Monitor

Ali Vaez

Senior Adviser to the President & Project Director, Iran
6 Apr 2023
Many experts still assume that whoever is in the White House will guide Saudi policy on Iran, but that simply isn’t true today. New York Times

Anna Jacobs

Senior Analyst, Gulf states
23 Mar 2023
Lowering the temperature with Iran is a smart way to lower tensions across the region and mitigate some of the proxy battles surrounding Saudi Arabia. Al Monitor

Anna Jacobs

Senior Analyst, Gulf states
13 Mar 2023
We can see a de-escalation in the regional layer of the [Saudi-Iranian] conflict. It is a multi-layered conflict, with domestic and regional causes, not just a proxy war Financial Times

Ahmed Nagi

Senior Analyst, Yemen
10 Mar 2023
The Saudi-Iran deal is a clear sign that both countries are ready to turn the page after years of turmoil. Financial Times

Anna Jacobs

Senior Analyst, Gulf states

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Ali Vaez

Senior Adviser to the President & Project Director, Iran
Ali Vaez

Naysan Rafati

Senior Analyst, Iran

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