Iran’s plans to violate a central tenet of the 2015 nuclear deal by exceeding limits placed on enriched uranium “will be the final blow to an agreement that the United States mortally wounded a year ago,” according to Barbara Slavin, director of the Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative

The nuclear deal—formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—was signed between Iran, the United States, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and China on July 14, 2015. The deal required Tehran to freeze aspects of its nuclear weapons program. In return, the other signatories would provide sanctions relief. On May 8, 2018, US President Donald J. Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the JCPOA over concerns that it did not do enough to stop Tehran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon or its “malign activity” in the Middle East.

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Iranian supreme leader rebuffs Japanese prime minister’s attempt at mediation

Iran is unlikely to agree to negotiations with the United States in the absence of US concessions, according to Barbara Slavin, director of the Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has offered to serve as a mediator between Washington and Tehran, traveled to Iran this week—the first Japanese prime minister to visit Iran in nearly forty years—in an attempt to facilitate negotiations. However, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei rebuffed Abe’s effort.

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Rising tensions between the United States and Iran are causing grave concern in Iraq. Iraq’s security and political stability will suffer greatly if this tension erupts into a violent conflict. Iraq has only just snatched a difficult victory from the jaws of an existential terrorist threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and is coping with post-conflict challenges that range from the reconstruction of destroyed cities—where more than a million internally displaced people are still unable to return to their homes—to the rebuilding of its battered economy and the revival of its energy, agriculture, education, housing, transportation, and healthcare sectors. If a new conflict erupts in the region, it will complicate the situation for Iraq in some unimaginable ways, even if Iraq is not directly involved.

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Drones purportedly flown by Houthi rebels in Yemen attacked Saudi oil pumping stations on May 14, creating a new flash point in a region already on edge over rising tensions between the United States and Iran.

A Houthi military official claimed the group launched multiple attacks against “vital Saudi installations” using drones to deliver bombs. The Houthis have been fighting the Saudi-backed government in Yemen since 2015.

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on January 10 repudiated former US President Barack Obama’s Middle East policies while seeking to reassure allies of the United States’ commitment to the region. Ironically, allies have been rattled of late by US President Donald J. Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from Syria. This decision, Pompeo insisted, is not a change of mission.

“Let me be clear, America will not retreat until the terror fight is over,” Pompeo said in a speech at the American University in Cairo, adding that the United States “will labor tirelessly alongside you to defeat ISIS, al Qaeda, and other jihadists that threaten our security and yours.”

Describing the United States as a “force for good,” the secretary said: “For those who fret about the use of American power, remember: America has always been a liberating force, not an occupying power, in the Middle East. We’ve never dreamed of domination. Can you say the same of the Iranian regime?”

We reached out to Atlantic Council analysts for their reactions to the speech. This is what they had to say:

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Defense secretary to leave Trump administration at the end of February

The differences between Donald J. Trump and Jim Mattis were on display in their statements on December 20. While Trump wrote in a tweet that his defense secretary was “retiring” at the end of February; Mattis made clear he was resigning over policy differences with the president.

Mattis submitted his resignation after a failed attempt to convince Trump to keep US troops in Syria, The New York Times reported.

“Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position,” Mattis wrote in his resignation letter to Trump.

Trump said Mattis would leave the administration at the end of February.

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The US Treasury Department on November 15 slapped sanctions on seventeen Saudi officials in response to the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

The sanctioned Saudis include Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s trusted adviser, Saud al-Qahtani; senior aide Maher Mutreb; and Saudi counsel general in Istanbul, Mohammed al-Ootaibi.

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