IranSource | Understanding and Analyzing a Multifaceted Iran

US President Donald J. Trump on May 8 pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal saying the agreement did not satisfactorily address the Islamic Republic’s ability to build a nuclear bomb or limit its “malign activity.” He also signed a memorandum to reimpose sanctions on Iran.

Trump’s decision will likely strain Washington’s ties with its European allies who had urged him to remain in the deal.

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Very little is likely to actually happen immediately on May 8 if US President Donald J. Trump does not renew sanctions waivers for Iran. 

Indeed, there is only one waiver scheduled for renewal by a May 12 deadline. That provision is Section 1245 of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). 

Section 1245 had a much larger impact on Iran than most other statutory provisions levied by the United States between 2010 and 2016. It was ostensibly a banking sanction, requiring the president to prohibit the opening of correspondent or payable-through accounts by a foreign financial institution (FFI) the president determined to have knowingly conducted or facilitated any significant financial transaction with the Central Bank of Iran or another designated Iranian financial institution—or to impose strict conditions on the maintenance of such accounts.

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US President Donald J. Trump is expected to announce his decision on May 8 on whether to continue to waive sanctions on Iran or pull the United States out of a multilateral nuclear agreement with the Islamic Republic.

Here’s a quick look at the history of sanctions on Iran.

Check out the timeline at the New Atlanticist.
US President Donald J. Trump is expected to reveal his decision on May 8 as to whether he will extend key sanctions waivers on Iran. A failure to do so would effectively take the United States out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—the Iran nuclear deal—which it signed with the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China, and Iran in 2015. 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned on May 6 that if the United States were to leave the deal it would face “regret of historic proportions.” The United Kingdom, France, and Germany have publicly urged Trump not to abandon the JCPOA. 

Here’s where the signatories stand on the JCPOA.

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European leaders have vowed to try to salvage the Iran nuclear deal if US President Donald J. Trump carries out his threat to withdraw later this week. But unlike the Paris climate accord and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) would have great difficulty surviving without US participation.

The United States’ European and Asian allies would strenuously complain and seek ways to protect oil imports and other trade and investment with Iran if Trump refuses to renew sanctions waivers by May 12. But many companies would be unlikely to risk the hefty fines that violating US sanctions could entail. Already, major multinational firms are putting Iran plans on hold.

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The dominant view in Washington since the 1979 Islamic revolution – with brief interruptions especially under the Clinton and Obama administrations – has been that Iran represents an irreconcilable challenge to US interests in the Middle East and must be countered with all tools of power, including sanctions and threats of war.

Influencing the debates over Iran’s nuclear program, regional influence, ballistic missile program and other Iranian policies are members of the US Congress and traditional US allies in Europe as well as regional powers such as Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in Israel and Mohammad bin Salman’s government in Saudi Arabia.

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The best-selling novel “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng provides an apt title for the next book in the long-running non-fiction history of Middle East conflicts—that which will come after US President Donald J. Trump moves to modify or nullify the Iran nuclear agreement. Those fires, not so little for those directly affected, are burning in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, and Gaza.  The challenges for US policy in the coming months will not be directly related to Iran’s nuclear program. Iran’s nuclear program poses no short-term threat. Iran will not have a nuclear weapons capability in the near future regardless of the president’s decision.  It will be the “little fires” that require more attention than ever.

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Victory in war often brings with it unforeseen challenges and obligations.  Russia is now learning that to sustain its victory in Syria’s civil war it must play a role as an arbiter or honest broker between Iran and Israel lest their rivalry explodes into large-scale combat, engulfs the entire region, and undermines Russia’s newly-acquired position there.  Such a war would utterly confound Russia’s interest in stabilizing a post-civil war Syria under Bashar al-Assad and retaining the bases and lucrative contracts it has won as well as its regional status as a key superpower without whom nothing can be accomplished.  

Apart from the destruction it would wreak, an Iran-Israeli war would consume Syria, bring the United States back to the Middle East in a big way, and force Russia to choose between the two states against its own preferences.  In other words, this war could wipe out all of Russia’s recent gains from its intervention in Syria.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on April 30 provided a twenty-minute PowerPoint presentation of secret Iranian nuclear documents, acquired by Israeli intelligence. The information revealed will be unlikely to change many minds about the wisdom of the nuclear deal with Iran, but it is significant. It shows that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was concluded under false pretenses and that Iran may currently be in violation of the accord.

To understand the significance of the information acquired for the nuclear deal, however, we must first review the steps necessary to build nuclear weapons. For Iran to go nuclear, it must complete three steps: (1) enrich significant quantities of uranium to weapons-grade levels; (2) develop a functioning nuclear warhead; (3) and possess a ballistic missile or other means to deliver the device to an enemy. Step 1 is the most difficult technical hurdle and the subject of the most contentious debates on the Iran nuclear deal. But all of the revelations in Netanyahu’s presentation were about Step 2.

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As a journalist and researcher, I very much appreciate a spirited debate about controversial issues. So I welcome the article written recently by a PhD graduate student about my issue brief on Iran’s Sunnis.

I agree with the student’s concerns about the map, with which I was not totally comfortable. However, on the more important issue of whether Iran’s Sunnis face systemic discrimination, I disagree with the student’s arguments, many of which echo the Islamic Republic’s official line.

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