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.
The death of Mahsa Amini has outraged citizens throughout Iran, setting off a protest wave. If it wishes for genuine stability, rather than the mirage of social control, Tehran must stop responding with brute force and start addressing the grievances driving people into the streets.
U.S. and Iran returned to EU-brokered talks in most substantive engagement to restore nuclear accord since March, leading to back-and-forth exchanges as prospects for final deal remained uncertain. After EU’s High Representative Josep Borrell late July said he had shared text for parties’ consideration that was “the best possible deal”, Borrell’s deputy Enrique Mora 3 Aug announced deliberations between U.S., Iran and other signatories of 2015 deal would resume next day in Austrian capital Vienna for first in-person talks since March. Borrell 8 Aug asserted “Behind every technical issue and every paragraph lies a political decision that needs to be taken in the capitals”. Iran’s lead negotiator, Ali Bagheri-Kani, 15 Aug briefed Supreme National Security Council in advance of Tehran communicating its response to Brussels. U.S. 24 Aug conveyed counter-proposal, which as of late Aug remained under review by Iranians. Meanwhile, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) 3 Aug informed member states that Iran had installed three cascades of IR-6 centrifuges at Natanz nuclear facility, and notified agency of its intent to install further six IR-2m centrifuge cascades. In fourth set of U.S. energy-related sanctions since late May, U.S. 1 Aug sanctioned six companies engaged in petroleum and petrochemical sales to East Asia. Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran same day said it would “launch and inject gas into hundreds of centrifuge machines, including advanced machines”; FM Hossein Amir-Abdollahian framed move as direct reaction to U.S. designations. U.S. forces and “Iran-backed militia groups” conducted tit-for-tat attacks in Syria (see Syria). U.S. Department of Justice 10 Aug charged Iranian national, identified as member of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), over plot to kill former U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton; White House warned of “severe consequences” in event of attack against U.S. citizens, while Iran’s foreign ministry denounced accusations as “threadbare and baseless myths”. U.S. Sec of State Antony Blinken 14 Aug denounced Iranian govt’s incitement of violence against Salman Rushdie as “despicable” following 12 Aug attack against author, who was subject of 1989 fatwa by Ayatollah Khomeini. Both incidents could fuel political opposition in U.S. to negotiating with Tehran.
Russia and Iran are showing that they are not afraid to work together when it's in their interest.
The negotiations [on the Iran nuclear deal] in the past few weeks could be summarized as one step forward, one step back.
Those who have argued that no deal is better than the restored JCPOA have in practice unleashed Iran's nuclear program and failed to produce a better alternative.
We are in a situation where for the first time . . . Iran has the ability to break out, have capacity to produce enough fissile material for a [nuclear] weapon, undetecte...
The Russia-Ukraine crisis has certainly cast a darker shadow [over the Vienna Talks] than it did a few days ago.
If the negotiators [on the Iran nuclear deal] fail to bridge the remaining gaps, the best fall back option is a moratorium that averts a perilous cycle of escalation.
As negotiations between the U.S. and Iran oscillate between conclusion and collapse, what can be done to prevent the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) from definitively sinking? In this Twitter Space, Ali Vaez, Crisis Group’s Iran Project Director, Naysan Rafati, our Iran Senior Analyst, and Ellie Geranmayeh, the Deputy Director of ECFR’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, tackle this question.
Though hope is fading, the U.S. and Iran may still be able to revitalise the 2015 accord on Tehran’s nuclear program. Should they falter, they should pursue more modest interim goals rather than allow the risk of confrontation to grow.
Repeated attacks on oil tankers have worsened Iran’s relations with the U.S. and Gulf states since 2019. Washington should rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal so Tehran can normalise its oil trade, while Western states should push for greater multilateral action to protect international shipping.
Negotiating parties are now within touching distance of reinstating the JCPOA, but a period of stasis threatens to undo the progress made. In this open letter, over 40 former top European officials urge the U.S. and Iranian leadership to see the negotiations through to a successful outcome.
In this week’s Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood is joined by Crisis Group’s Iran expert Naysan Rafati and Venezuela expert Phil Gunson to discuss the Ukraine war’s global repercussions.
Iran is closer than ever to being able to develop a nuclear weapon. This timeline of the Iran nuclear deal explains how we got to this point by highlighting key flashpoints from the deal's implementation in 2016 to now.