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.
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.
Crisis Group's Interactive Iran-U.S. Trigger List
UN Sec-Gen Guterres 6 Dec issued sixth report on implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231 that endorsed 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), noting Iran continued to adhere to deal’s commitments in “face of considerable challenges”. Guterres also applauded efforts to protect economic freedoms for “legitimate business” (likely referring to EU’s unrealised Special Purpose Vehicle) but report highlighted possible Iranian weapons transfers to proxies and seven Iranian ballistic missile tests in 2018. U.S.-Iran tensions continued: U.S. Sec State Pompeo 1 Dec reported and condemned Iran’s test same day of medium range ballistic missile and 12 Dec pledged to continue “building coalition of responsible nations” confronting Iranian “ballistic missile activity”; Iran responded that U.S. had breached UNSCR 2231, Iran was not responsible for arms transfers and missile tests did not break resolution. Israeli PM Netanyahu 16 Dec hinted Israeli intelligence operations inside Iran were continuing. Insecurity in Iran’s border areas persisted as Baluchi jihadist group Ansar al-Furqan killed two and injured more than two dozen in suicide attack in city of Chabahar in south near Pakistan border 6 Dec; FM Zarif claimed perpetrators were “foreign-backed”. Govt and Pakistan 13 Dec signed MoU to enhance border security. Iranian official visiting Afghan capital Kabul 26 Dec said Iran had been holding talks with Taliban on security issues in Afghanistan; govt 31 Dec said it had held talks with Taliban representatives in Tehran previous day.
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.
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.
In the process of using platforms associated with Iran's regional foes to delegitimize the Islamic Republic, the opposition risks delegitimizing itself in the eyes of the highly nationalistic Iranian population.
The only thing the Iranian leadership deems more dangerous than suffering from sanctions is surrendering to them.
[Under sanctions] women, as organisers of family life, healthcare, education, will often carry the burden of trying to come up with alternatives for their families in all instances.
The notion that Iran is going to be asked to leave [Syria] or be forced out in the foreseeable future is illusory. Iran has been the Assad regime’s longest, most consistent and reliable ally.
By escalating tensions and forfeiting diplomacy [with Iran, the Trump administration] risks putting us on a path toward conflict in the Middle East.
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.
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
What does U.S. withdrawal mean for the Iran Nuclear Deal? Watch Crisis Group's two-minute explainer video and to find out.