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.
U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal has exacerbated tensions between the two countries and endangered the agreement. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2019 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to uphold the deal conditionally and to handle other security concerns in the region separately.
Crisis Group's Interactive Iran-U.S. Trigger List
On 40th anniversary of 1979 revolution, govt insisted on right to develop “defensive power”, meanwhile rift between U.S. and Europe over Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) widened. Following 31 Jan launch by European JCPOA participants (Germany, France and UK) of Instrument for Supporting Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), mechanism to facilitate trade with Iran avoiding unilateral U.S. sanctions, U.S. VP Pence at Munich Security Conference 16 Feb urged Europeans to “stop undermining U.S. sanctions” and to “withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal”. U.S. and Poland chaired ministerial meeting in Polish capital Warsaw 13-14 Feb titled Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East, which focused on countering Iran’s regional policies; meeting failed to deliver diplomatic breakthroughs, but Israeli PM Netanyahu attended alongside Arab leaders. Iran 11 Feb commemorated 40th anniversary of 1979 revolution; President Rouhani said “we have not – and will not – ask for permission from anybody for improving our defensive power” and Supreme Leader Khamenei 13 Feb counselled against trusting European govts and negotiating with U.S.. FM Zarif resigned 25 Feb without giving reasons; Rouhani 27 Feb rejected resignation and Zarif continued duties. Satellite launch failed 5 Feb. Suicide attack claimed by Sunni militant group Jaish al-Adl against Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps vehicle 13 Feb killed 27 in south east, govt accused Pakistan of sheltering group and accused Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) of involvement.
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.
The Trump administration believes that ratcheting up economic pressure on Iran will compel the Islamic Republic to curtail its disruptive Middle East policies. History suggests otherwise. Both Washington and Tehran should step off their current escalatory path.
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.
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.
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.
Both Iran and the US are waiting and hoping for regime change in one another’s countries, but the clock in Washington is running faster than the clock in Tehran.
While many in Europe share US concerns with regards to Iran's regional activities & ballistic missiles program, they don't agree with Washington's one-sided and maximalist view that Iran is the source of all evil in the region
(...) ravaged by years of war, sanctions and mismanagement, the Iranian economy has failed to fulfill its enormous potential, squandering the prosperity of an entire generation of Iranians.
Since February 2018, the Israeli-Iranian conflict visibly is no longer ‘cold'.
The risk is that the more the Trump administration succeeds in squeezing the Iranian economy, the less risk-averse Iran will become in the region.
The fight against corruption in Iran has always been subjective and used as a political football. The system is starting to perceive endemic corruption as existential threat and is seeking to at least contain it.
Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Program Director Joost Hiltermann presented this paper on the history of U.S.-Iran relations and the status of the Iran Deal at an 8 November conference organised by the Israeli-European Policy Network (IEPN) in Herzliya, Israel.
An attack on a military parade in Iran is raising tensions in an already volatile Gulf region. Four Crisis Group analysts give a 360-degree view of perspectives in Tehran, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Washington and warn that a single attack can trigger further escalation.
Originally published in The Hill
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