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.
U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal has exacerbated tensions between the two countries and endangered the agreement. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2019 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to uphold the deal conditionally and to handle other security concerns in the region separately.
Crisis Group's Interactive Iran-U.S. Trigger List
International Atomic Energy Agency 6 March published quarterly report confirming Iran has continued to abide by terms of 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Special Trade and Finance Institute (STFI), Iranian sister organisation of Instrument for Supporting Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), mechanism created by European JCPOA members in Jan to facilitate Iran’s purchases of humanitarian goods, formally registered in Iran 19 March. President Rouhani 11-13 March visited Iraq, first time as president, meeting senior Iraqi politicians, businessmen and religious leaders, including Grand Ayatollah Sistani. Iran and Iraq signed five memoranda of understanding to deepen economic and diplomatic ties. Iranian officials and counterparts from France, Germany, UK and Italy convened 18 March under Iran-E4 framework in Brussels to discuss regional issues, notably Yemen. Supreme Leader Khamenei 7 March appointed hardliner Ebrahim Raisi as new Chief Justice, to replace Sadeq Larijani, appointed as new chairman of Expediency Council – constitutional arbitrator between parliament and Guardian Council. U.S. 22 March issued sanctions designation against 31 individuals and entities linked to Iranian nuclear program; 26 March issued sanctions on additional companies and individuals in Iran, Turkey and United Arab Emirates for alleged sanctions evasion. Israel 27 March carried out airstrike near Aleppo in northern Syria reportedly targeting Iranian weapons depot and killing several Iraqi and Iranian fighters.
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.
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 designation of the [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] as a terrorist group actually has more impact in the countries neighbouring Iran than Iran itself.
The problem with this administration in the U.S. is that it is all about money and boots on the ground, but that is not how it works in the [Middle East]. It is all about relationships.
Washington's approach is systematic as well as binary: allies must be supported, rivals must be curbed. But how effective it is in bringing Iran back to the table on US terms still very much uncertain.
Both Iran and the US are waiting and hoping for regime change in one another’s countries, but the clock in Washington is running faster than the clock in Tehran.
While many in Europe share US concerns with regards to Iran's regional activities & ballistic missiles program, they don't agree with Washington's one-sided and maximalist view that Iran is the source of all evil in the region
(...) ravaged by years of war, sanctions and mismanagement, the Iranian economy has failed to fulfill its enormous potential, squandering the prosperity of an entire generation of Iranians.
The Islamic Republic faces a mix of challenges and opportunities. While its rivalry with the United States and its allies in the Middle East is increasingly harsh, Tehran’s regional influence is unprecedented in recent history
Originally published in World Energy
It has been Yesterday 39 years since US President Carter broke diplomatic relations with Iran. This video timeline shows how US policy sought to contain, confront, and at times engage with Iran over the last 40 years.
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.
An attack on a military parade in Iran is raising tensions in an already volatile Gulf region. Four Crisis Group analysts give a 360-degree view of perspectives in Tehran, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Washington and warn that a single attack can trigger further escalation.
Originally published in The Hill