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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In its Cold War heyday, the tiny town of Keflavik (population 15,129 today) played an outsized role on the world stage as a strategic outpost for the United States and its NATO allies, keeping an eye on Soviet and Russian activities. The Icelandic airbase was home to thousands of US servicemembers and their families. As Moscow-Washington tensions abated, so did the interest in keeping the base staffed up. By 2006, and over the protestations of the Icelandic government which felt somewhat abandoned, the US government returned control of the base to Reykjavik. It became a sprawling mix of privatized apartment buildings, schools, and other civilian facilities.

Fast forward to 2014: Russia annexes Crimea in a sudden manifestation of its increasingly aggressive military posture. A month later, Capt. Jon Gudnason, commander of the Keflavik Airbase for the last thirty years, got a phone call from Washington.  In a brief conversation, US Navy officials told him they would like to beef the base back up a bit. Gudnason said sure, they were welcome.

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US President Donald J. Trump’s decision on the fate of the Iran nuclear deal will be an important factor in determining the outcome of his highly anticipated summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, a Democratic US senator said at the Atlantic Council in Washington on May 4.

Pulling the United States out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear deal with Iran, would be a “huge mistake if [Trump] expects to have credibility when he sits at the table with Kim,” said Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA). “We must uphold our deals,” he added.

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Barack Obama had an opinion in 2011 on who should win the contest between the Syrian opposition and Bashar al-Assad’s regime when he said Assad should “step aside.” He did not, however, wish to back up that opinion with troops on the ground or significant assistance to the opposition. As a result, Russia and Iran were emboldened and stepped in to shore up the Assad regime and protect their interests in Syria. Obama did, however, step up the fight—albeit largely with air power—against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and laid down a strategy for victory in Mosul and Raqqa.

Enter Donald J. Trump, who has followed Obama’s strategy, only with no particular feeling or much interest in the matter.

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Early in the morning on April 9, missiles streaked through the Syrian sky toward the Tiyas (T-4) air base in Homs province, northeast of Damascus. Besides Syrian forces, the base hosts Russians and Iranians, members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force. Several Iranians were killed in the strikes.

Syria, Russia, and Iran blamed Israel for the attack on T-4.

Israel neither confirmed nor denied that it carried out the strikes.

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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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Days after a wave of protests won an enormous (and unlikely) victory by forcing the resignation of Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sargysan, his Republican Party still seems reluctant to let their grip on power slip away. Opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan could be confirmed as the new prime minister in a parliamentary vote on May 8.

Time will tell whether Sargysan’s resignation on April 23 was a genuine step away from one party rule or little more than a sacrificial offering to the protesters. Armenia’s steps toward democracy are likely to be tortuous and fraught.

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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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Emmanuel Macron is on a high. But Emmanuel Macron also has a problem. How he addresses that problem, and whether he can solve that problem, will largely determine his success over the next four years and his chances of re-election for a new five-year term from 2022 to 2027.

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