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.
Daily street protests across Iran since 28 December 2017 have pitted many young Iranians against the government, but the state’s response is revealing deep fractures in the political establishment. To outflank both the unrest and his political opponents, President Rouhani’s best option is to address head-on the drivers of the protests and pursue popular reform.
Tens of thousands protested against govt in several cities 28-31 Dec and clashes with security forces reportedly left at least thirteen protestors dead. Protests against price rises and economic stagnation in city of Mashhad 28 Dec spread to other towns and cities, with protestors criticising govt corruption and some calling for Supreme Leader Khamenei to step down. Crowds attacked state buildings in capital Tehran 30 Dec. President Rouhani 31 Dec said people had right to criticise authorities but warned govt would not tolerate those who use violence. U.S. President Trump expressed support for protestors and warned Tehran that “the world is watching”. U.S. Congress let pass 13 Dec deadline for re-imposing on Iran sanctions waived under July 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA); deadline triggered by U.S. President Trump’s 13 Oct non-certification of Iran’s compliance with nuclear deal. JCPOA Joint Commission members, including U.S., emphasised their commitment to deal in Vienna 13 Dec. U.S. House of Representatives 14 Dec passed bill requiring Treasury to “make certifications with respect to U.S. and foreign financial institutions’ aircraft-related transactions involving Iran”. Iranian officials 6 Dec denounced Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Iran rejected claims by U.S. ambassador to UN 14 Dec that Iran had provided military support to Yemeni Huthi rebels.
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.
When twelve months of intense negotiations between Iran and the P5+1/EU3+3 ended with yet another extension, sceptics saw this as confirmation that the talks are doomed. But it would be as grave a mistake to underestimate the real progress as to overstate the chances of ultimate success. A landmark agreement is still within reach if both sides adopt more flexible postures on enrichment capacity and sanctions relief.
November’s deadline could be the last chance to avoid a breakdown in the Iran and the P5+1 nuclear talks. Compromise on Iran’s enrichment capacity is key to ending the impasse, requiring both sides to walk back from maximalist positions and focus on realistic solutions.
In a nutshell, what [the U.S. President Trump] is saying [to Europeans] is ‘Kill the [Iran's nuclear] deal with me or I’ll kill it alone'.
President Trump’s decision [to renew Iran's nuclear deal] leaves the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in the state of limbo it acquired shortly after his election.
[U.S.] President [Trump] is [probably] going to once again decertify [Iran's nuclear deal] and continue to waive sanctions but at the same time slap new sanctions on Iran on non-nuclear issues.
Iranian government's opponents will focus on [Ayatollah] Khamenei's self-critical statements and appointment to what was intended to be a caretaker position, as evidence of inter-regime wheeling.
Without addressing the main drivers of these protests, the Iranian leaders are buying time until the next one.
That the protests originated on 28 December in Mashhad, a bastion of [Iranian President] Rouhani's opponents and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's hometown, is highly significant.
Without addressing head-on the drivers of the protests and pursuing popular reform, the Iranian leaders are only buying time until the next standoff between the state and the society.
Originally published in Open Democracy
President Trump’s decertification of the Iran nuclear deal is a blow to this multi-national accord, but need not be fatal. The U.S. Congress, Iran and the European co-signatories can still do much to save one of the great diplomatic achievements of the past decade.
Originally published in The New York Times
Doha has become a casualty of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates’ fights with Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood. But don’t expect a war.
Iranian voters have a real choice on 19 May between a president promising engagement with the West or one focused on the ideological purity of the Islamic Revolution. At the same time, both leading candidates are clerical insiders who support the continuation of Iran’s nuclear deal.