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.
Here’s what you need to know about this set of sanctions:
What is the JCPOA?
The JCPOA or Iran nuclear deal is a 159-page document agreed to on July 14, 2015 by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States—plus Germany with Iran. It traded curbs on Iran’s nuclear program for sanctions relief from the European Union, United States, and United Nations. The JCPOA went into implementation on January 16, 2016.
The ruling seemed reliable enough. As Iran’s political and economic crises piled on in recent months, many reformists have called on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to show gestures toward national reconciliation. Releasing the reformist leaders only made sense.
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.
Matthew Kroenig, deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, said Trump’s willingness to meet the Iranian leader is “the textbook pressure and engagement strategy the United States has used for many years in dealing with rogue states.”
Sanctions are economic and diplomatic instruments that are designed to put pressure on the targeted state to convince it to comply with the demands from those imposing the sanctions. However, the degree of their effectiveness has long been subject to debate. In the case of Iran’s nuclear program, proponents argue that it was “crippling” sanctions that forced Iran to seriously negotiate. While this is partly true, Iran continued to gain leverage during the course of the negotiations by advancing its nuclear know-how. By the time the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was reached, three years ago, Iran had a large inventory of centrifuges and had increased its expertise in other areas with potential military as well as civilian use. At the same time, the Iranian people paid a heavy price as a result of the sanctions.
Judging from this author’s recent visit to Tehran, Iranians are resigned to life getting even worse and are at a loss as to how to prevent that.
The imminent reintroduction of secondary sanctions has dashed expectations that life would improve in the wake of the 2015 Iran nuclear accord. Prices of essential goods have almost doubled compared to a year ago, mainly due to the devaluation of the currency caused by the US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and internal competition within the political elite.
Given this harsh rhetoric on Iran and the demands that it withdraw from Syria and end support for Hezbollah among other capitulations, it is unclear whether this language is meant to deter. It could also signal the start of a meaningful anti-Iranian pushback after eight years of de-escalation under the Obama Administration. However, this approach does not meet the criteria for effective deterrence, and there is no sign of a robust rollback strategy. Instead, it just looks confusing.
Iranians had been focusing on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s “Supporting Iranian Voices” event at the California-based Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library. But shortly after Pompeo finished speaking on July 22 about US support for Iran’s beleaguered people, President Donald Trump tweeted an all caps warning to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to “NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE.” The tweet, which suggested the US was poised to destroy Iran, was posted just as Iranians were waking up on Monday morning.
Trump’s tweet was an apparent response to a comment by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Iranian diplomats in Tehran. “America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” Rouhani said, according to Iran’s state news agency IRNA.
In many ways, Trump’s tweet has echoes of his Twitter outbursts against North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, which ultimately led to a summit between the two leaders in Singapore on June 12.
Iran, however, is a different kettle of fish.
Pompeo was introduced by Fred Ryan, chairman of the board of the Reagan Foundation, and by Sen. Tom Cotton, a hawkish Republican from Arkansas. At the end, there was a brief question and answer session with former California governor Pete Wilson. In the front rows in the audience was a similarly non-ethnic crowd.