On Monday, US President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order detailing the framework for re-imposing sanctions on Iran, which were lifted under the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) nuclear deal, with the goal of getting Iran back to the table to negotiate a deal covering not just Iran’s nuclear weapons program, but also Tehran’s other malign activity. Immediately after issuing the order, Trump tweeted that these were the most biting sanctions ever and would be ratcheted up to another level in November.  This is, of course, not true. 

The sanctions the administration is re-imposing in two waves (August and November) on Iran are effectively the same sanctions that were in place in 2013 and led to the JCPOA negotiations.  Unlike 2013, the Trump administration does not have the full support of the international community and is not bolstered by several United Nations Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran to generate maximum pressure on Tehran.  Instead, the US withdrawal from the JCPOA has caused an ugly split with our European allies who passed a blocking regulation preventing EU companies from complying with US sanctions on Iran and has drawn the ire of the other deal signatories, China and Russia, and key partners – such as Turkey, India, Japan, and South Korea – who went along with US sanctions in 2013. 

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As part of the United States’ withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the US Treasury Department will restore sanctions on a number of key Iranian sectors and activities on August 6.

Here’s what you need to know about this set of sanctions:

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Tension continues to escalate along the Israeli-Syrian border with the recent regime southern offensive to oust opposition in the area and Israeli attacks on Iranian targets in Syria. Continued activity along the border is expected as Iran continues to solidify its hold on Syria. Yet Israeli's strategy is less clear as Iran continues to test the boundaries pushing Israel to act in Syria; among other actors like the Islamic State. We asked our nonresident senior fellows former Ambassador Frederic C. Hof, and Mona Alami about Israeli’s current and potential involvement in the Syrian conflict as it develops.

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“If they impose sanctions on Iran's oil exports, then even one drop of oil cannot flow from the Strait of Hormuz.''

After a long week of Iran headlines – US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo laying out the administration’s Iran strategy, Presidents Trump and Rouhani trading implicit threats of war, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF) Commander Qassem Suleimani addressing Trump by name in a speech - one might be forgiven for mistaking the above as a recent quote.

But that threat is actually from 2012, when Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi decried Obama administration oil sanctions in response to Iran’s nuclear program. Iran’s recent threat to close the Strait of Hormuz is not new, but rather a tactic Tehran has turned to again and again to get what it wants.

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Eight days ago, US President Donald J. Trump warned Hassan Rouhani of dire “consequences” should the Iranian president persist with his threats against the United States.

On July 30, Trump said he would be willing to meet with the Iranian leader at any time “with no preconditions.”

“If they [the Iranians] want to meet, we’ll meet,” Trump said at a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte at the White House in Washington.

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US President Donald J. Trump, in a late-night, all-caps tweet on July 22, threatened Iran with “consequences the likes of which few throughout history have suffered before” if Iranian leaders continued to threaten the United States with war.

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Excerpts from Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats interview with NBC Chief Correspondent Andrea Mitchell, July 19, 2018.

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There were few surprises when US President Donald J. Trump announced on May 8 that the United States was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. The United States and the other four permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany, and the European Union negotiated the agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), with Tehran back in the summer of 2015. 

Trump had already signaled in January that he did not like the deal and regarded Iran as the world’s leading state sponsor of terror. He knew that ditching it and reapplying US sanctions would go down well with his wealthy friends in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with Israel, with many of his donors, and with his evangelical base. And in case anyone was in any doubt, he appointed John Bolton, a renowned Iran hawk, as his national security advisor shortly before announcing his decision.

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European efforts to preserve the Iran nuclear agreement, coupled with US plans to impose sanctions on Iran and secondary sanctions on companies that fail to comply with those sanctions, have contributed to a dangerous divide in the Atlantic community—one that threatens an economic relationship that remains the linchpin of the world’s economy.

This is hardly the first time that the allies have tangled over issues that simultaneously impact each other’s economic and strategic interests. 

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Several years ago, Henry Kissinger famously stated that Iran must decide if it wants to be a country or a cause. On May 21, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo re-articulated this question, offering Iran a sharp choice: to be welcomed back into the community of nations if it abandons its destabilizing security policies or be subjected to an unrelenting US-led pressure campaign if not.

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