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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

U.S. ratcheted up pressure on Iran by unilaterally declaring restoration of all pre-nuclear deal UN sanctions on Iran, despite widespread international opposition to move. After triggering “snapback” mechanism of Resolution 2231 in Aug, U.S. 19 Sept declared “the return of virtually all previously terminated UN sanctions” on Iran that were lifted following Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), warning that it will use its “domestic authorities” if UN member states fail to implement sanctions. However, UK, German and French (E3) UN envoys 20 Sept reiterated their view that U.S. snapback notification “is incapable of having legal effect” and restoration of pre-2231 sanctions “would also be incapable of having any legal effect”. Given wide divergence between U.S. on one side and UN Security Council members and JCPOA signatories on other, President Rouhani 16 Sept said U.S. “was left alone” at UN, and hailed its failure as “great and historic victory”. U.S. rolled out sanctions throughout month: Treasury 3 Sept blacklisted six entities linked to already-sanctioned petrochemical company; Treasury 17 Sept unveiled sanctions against “Iranian cyber threat group Advanced Persistent Threat 39 (APT39)”; executive order 21 Sept accompanied by “sweeping” nuclear, missile and conventional arms designations; State Dept 24 Sept blacklisted Iranian judicial officials and entities for human rights violations. Meanwhile, Joint Commission of JCPOA 1 Sept convened with all sides underscoring continued commitment to salvaging nuclear deal; in positive sign, International Atomic Energy Agency Director General 14 Sept confirmed that agency had already visited one of two sites previously in dispute with Iran and expected to inspect second site soon. Non-nuclear tensions persisted with U.S.; President Trump 14 Sept echoed media report that Iran may be planning attack against U.S. in retaliation for killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) commander Qassem Soleimani in Jan and vowed retaliation “1,000 times greater in magnitude!”; IRGC head 19 Sept remarked “we will target those who had an either direct or indirect role” in attack. Amid concern of third wave of COVID-19 infections, national currency 20 Sept hit a historic low of 273,000 rial to dollar.


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Reports & Briefings

In The News

15 Aug 2020
The fact is that everybody at the UN believes this (resolution) is just a prelude to a US effort to trigger snapback and sink the Iranian nuclear deal. The Asia Times

Richard Gowan

UN Director
12 Aug 2020
[The U.S. has done] a poor job concealing its intention to capitalize on the arms embargo expiration to dismantle [what remains of the nuclear deal]. The Japan Times

Ashish Pradhan

Senior Analyst, UN Advocacy and Research
29 Apr 2020
Depriving Tehran from having access to the arms market will compel Iran to double down on its support for proxies and its ballistic missiles program. Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Ali Vaez

Project Director, Iran
15 Apr 2020
The Iranians are keen on demonstrating to the U.S. that the COVID crisis has neither debilitated them nor has altered their strategic calculus. Time

Ali Vaez

Project Director, Iran
1 Apr 2020
[The Trump administration] think[s] that the timeline for bringing Iran to its knees has shortened because of the coronavirus. New York Times

Ali Vaez

Project Director, Iran
18 Mar 2020
[The sanctions] are a testament to this administration's doctrinal belief in the effectiveness of sanctions to bring Iran to its knees. Middle East Eye

Ali Vaez

Project Director, Iran

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Also available in العربية, فارسی

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Our People

Ali Vaez

Project Director, Iran

Naysan Rafati

Senior Analyst, Iran