Iran's Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Gharib Abadi speaks to the media after the IAEA board of governors meeting at the International Center in Vienna, Austria, Wednesday, July 10, 2019.

Iran's Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Gharib Abadi speaks to the media after the IAEA board of governors meeting at the International Center in Vienna, Austria, Wednesday, July 10, 2019. AP Photo/Ronald Zak

There’s a Deal to Be Had Between the US and Iran

For now, though, both sides seem to prefer escalating pressure.

Iran is now incrementally walking away from the limits imposed on it in the nuclear deal—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA—exceeding the 300 kilograms of low enriched uranium it can have on hand and now enriching above the 3.67 percent allowed under the terms of the understanding. Don’t be surprised if it either starts to install its advanced centrifuges or begins to operate more than the 5,061 older centrifuges it is permitted for enrichment. Iran is not racing to produce weapons-grade material, but make no mistake, it is shrinking the time it will need to have a breakout capability.

The Trump administration’s decision to end the waivers it had given eight countries to continue to buy Iranian oil, in late April, put the Iranians in a real bind. The country’s oil exports plummeted from roughly a million barrels a day to roughly 300,000. The resulting loss of revenue added dramatically to the already significant economic pressures caused by the American reimposition of sanctions—and the reality that multinational corporations felt the need to respect the sanctions lest they lose the ability to do business in the United States or get financing from American banks.

Iran is now answering the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” policy by placing maximum pressure on Donald Trump. Reducing its breakout time—and emphasizing the Trump administration’s inability to restrain it—is one way that Iran is raising the pressure. Tehran is also ramping up its threatening actions in the region. Saudi civilian airfields, oil pipelines, and petroleum pumping stations are being targeted every few days by the Houthis from Yemen with Iranian-provided drones and missiles; six ships on two different occasions have been sabotaged with limpet mines south of the Strait of Hormuz; bases in Iraq where American forces are located have been hit by rockets fired by Shia militias armed and trained by the Iranians; Israeli security officials tell me that Islamic jihad—likewise supported by Iran—is trying hard to provoke a conflict with Israel in Gaza; and, of course, an American drone was shot down by the Iranians.

A week before the White House decision on the waivers, the State Department was informing countries that they would be continued. The State Department favored keeping the waivers because it understood it was getting the best of both worlds: Iran was under pressure, with its economy reeling, and yet the Iranians were abiding by their obligations in the JCPOA—something that relieved the administration of figuring out what to do if the Iranians actually walked away and began to reduce their breakout time.

Related: Trump’s ‘Maximum Pressure’ Won’t Make Iran Yield

Related: Trump’s Iran Policy Is Counterproductive

Related: Is There Still a Deal to Be Done With Iran?

Rescinding the waivers persuaded the Iranians that they must show Trump, the Europeans, and our friends in the region that they, too, could impose a price and were not simply going to acquiesce to U.S. pressure. Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, in a speech on May 29, declared that the U.S. was trying to pressure the Islamic Republic to return to the negotiating table in a weakened condition. He said that would not happen; instead, he said, Iran would apply its “leverage”—and it is clearly doing so.

Each side seems to be operating on the assumption that mounting pressure will force the other side to blink. The danger, of course, is a miscalculation that produces a conflict even if neither side wants it. Assuming conflict can be avoided, Iran’s president, foreign minister, and deputy foreign minister are saying they will reverse their breaches of the JCPOA if the U.S. comes back to the deal or the Europeans deliver economic benefits. Neither prospect seems likely—and yet, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has agreed to consider French President Emmanuel Macron’s call for negotiations.

Can the Europeans successfully mediate between the Iranians and Trump? They might start by brokering an understanding in which the Iranians come back into compliance and help de-escalate in the region in return for the Trump administration reconstituting the waivers rescinded in April.

The Trump administration has no real answer to Iranian maximum pressure and clearly does not want conflict. That might be enough to persuade Trump to accept such an understanding. In Japan, Trump conveyed his basic instinct on Iran, saying he was not interested in regime change, just “no nukes.” Trump’s only real criterion is doing better than Barack Obama, and that probably means extending the sunset provision on the limits on Iranian enrichment for another 10 to 15 years, out to 2040 or 2045. But the Iranians won’t make such a concession for nothing; they would likely demand the end not just of the sanctions imposed to constrict Iran’s nuclear activity, but of the broader array of sanctions.

American sanctions imposed on Iran as a result of its support for terror and its violations of human rights cannot and should not be lifted, given Iran’s ongoing acts and policies. Moreover, JCPOA 2.0 is likely to be no more sustainable than its first version if Iran does not change its behavior in the region. No grand bargain, magically overcoming all U.S.-Iranian differences, lies within the realm of possibility.

There is, however, a realistic and achievable compromise to be had. Iran could agree to an extension of the sunset provisions for 10 to 15 years, as well as to limit rockets, missiles, and military infrastructure in Syria and Lebanon, reducing the prospect of a wider regional war between Israel and Iran. In return, the U.S. would lift the nuclear sanctions and create a special-purpose vehicle, which would allow American and international firms to do business in Iran so long as they complied with a strict set of rules. It wouldn’t offer everything either side wants, but it would produce more for each side than the current impasse.

For now, however, Iran appears to prefer to escalate the pressure it is applying to the U.S. Unless the supreme leader comes to fear that the U.S. will act militarily or that economic pressures are placing domestic peace at risk, he is unlikely to accept a deal anytime soon. And that, ironically, means the risk of a conflict that neither side actually wants remains high—high enough to motivate the Europeans to do all they can to persuade each side to de-escalate and broker a new understanding.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.