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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

Deteriorated Situation

Conflict Risk Alert

Iran-U.S. tensions rose as U.S. responded to series of attacks on U.S. assets in Iraq with strikes on Iran-backed militia there; tensions could spiral further in Jan, especially around Iran’s planned further violation of nuclear deal 6 Jan. In Iraq, attacks on U.S. assets intensified: unidentified assailants 3, 5, 9 and 11 Dec launched rockets at military bases housing U.S. troops; rocket attack on base outside Kirkuk 27 Dec killed U.S. contractor. U.S. Sec State Pompeo blamed “Iran’s proxies”. U.S. airstrikes 29 Dec hit bases in Iraq and Syria of Iran-backed Kataib Hizbollah militia, part of paramilitary Popular Mobilisation Units, killing at least 25 fighters. In response, supporters and members of Kataib Hizbollah protested outside U.S. embassy, 31 Dec broke into compound. Chair of joint commission of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) during meeting in Austria 6 Dec noted “serious concern” in relation to Iran’s incremental violations of nuclear deal. Russia’s State Nuclear Energy Corporation Rosatom 5 Dec announced suspension of work ostensibly for technical reasons at Fordow nuclear facility, where in Nov Iran restarted uranium enrichment. U.S. 15 Dec withdrew sanctions waiver for international civil nuclear cooperation at Fordow. Iran and U.S. exchanged prisoners in Switzerland 7 Dec; Iran released Princeton University doctoral student Xiyue Wang in exchange for release of Iranian scientist Masoud Soleimani held since 2018 for sanctions violations. U.S. 11 Dec announced new sanctions against Iranian shipping and aviation industries. NGO Amnesty International 16 Dec reported that nationwide protests over fuel prices in Nov had led to violent clashes between protesters and security forces that left 304 demonstrators dead. Govt 11 Dec said it had foiled “state sponsored” cyberattack on national banking system; 15 Dec said it had foiled another cyberattack.

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Reports & Briefings

In The News

6 Jan 2020
The outpouring of grief for Qassim Suleimani is the country’s first act of retaliation. New York Times

Azadeh Moaveni

Project Director, Gender in Policy Management
4 Jan 2020
[The assassination of Iranian General Suleimani] is precisely the sort of deus ex machina the organization [ISIS] needed, to give it room to operate and to allow it to break out of its current marginality. New York Times

Sam Heller

Senior Analyst, Non-state Armed Groups
3 Jan 2020
Netanyahu fears this incident lacks a broader U.S. strategy and would either merely escalate dynamics without restraining Iran’s nuclear program and regional activities. Time

Ofer Zalzberg

Senior Analyst, Arab-Israeli Conflict
2 Jan 2020
A strike that the [U.S] administration claims was intended to deter Iranian attacks is almost certain to trigger far more of them. Foreign Policy

Robert Malley

President & CEO
6 Nov 2019
[Iraqi] people make a direct connection between the failure and the corruption of the Shia political establishment, both politicians and some clerics, and the Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs. Washington Post

Maria Fantappie

Former Senior Adviser, Iraq
2 Oct 2019
It has been politically more convenient to lay the blame for Houthis at Iran’s door than to say that the Houthis’ rise was the product of a series of internal political miscalculations and misplaced international priorities. Foreign Policy

Peter Salisbury

Senior Analyst, Yemen

Latest Updates

Learning the Right Lessons from Protests in Iran

November’s protests show that the Islamic Republic is not as secure as it thinks. But neither, as their swift suppression demonstrates, is it as vulnerable as its foes hope. Iran should halt crackdowns and start serious reform, and Tehran and Washington should de-escalate tensions.

U.S. Maximum Pressure Meets Iranian Maximum Pressure

Eighteen months after Washington quit the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, Tehran is proceeding with staggered steps away from its own compliance. The deal is unravelling against the backdrop of high regional tensions. A de-escalation along the lines developed by France provides an off-ramp.

Video - The U.S. and Iran: Maximum Pressure, Maximum Peril

Crisis Group's hand-illustrated video draws out the story of rising tensions between Iran and the U.S. 

Iran Briefing Note #15

Iran Briefing Notes, of which this is the last of a series of 15 that began on 20 June 2019, highlight and provide context for major events featured on International Crisis Group’s Iran-U.S. Trigger List. This infographic resource tracks key flashpoints between Iran, the U.S. and their respective allies in the Middle East. 

After the Aramco Attack: A Middle East One Step Closer to Its “1914 Moment”

On 14 September, strikes of uncertain provenance hit Saudi Arabia’s largest oil facilities, taking some 50 per cent of the kingdom’s oil production temporarily offline. Crisis Group offers a 360-degree view of the attacks and their implications for Middle Eastern and international peace and security.

Our People

Ali Vaez

Project Director, Iran

Naysan Rafati

Analyst, Iran