Surprising new signs are emerging that President Trump’s controversial “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran could set the table for new negotiations toward a better agreement.  
 
To get there, however, President Trump will have to navigate the greatest perils in US-Iranian relations in recent memory, something he has done so far with a military restraint that has confounded his critics and gained him praise for “prudence” even from Iran’s foreign minister. 

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Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) announced that it seized a British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19, and a second British-owned tanker was boarded before being released, in the latest escalation over control of one of the world’s most vital energy trade waterways.

The first tanker, the Stena Impero, was seized by Iranian boats after it ignored warnings to stop, according to Iranian officials. The second tanker, MV Mesdar, operates under a Liberian flag but is owned by UK company Norbulk Shipping.

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The United States claims a US navy vessel destroyed an Iranian drone on July 18, continuing the escalatory spiral between Iran and the United States in the Persian Gulf.

US President Donald J. Trump announced before a press conference with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte that the USS Boxer “took defensive action against an Iranian drone,” which had come within 1,000 yards of the US ship. Trump said the drone ignored “multiple calls to stand down and was threatening the safety of the ship and the ship’s crew,” before it was “immediately destroyed.” According to CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, the drone was “brought down by electronic warfare jamming.”

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The final match of the Women’s World Cup 2019 is a few short days away and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) expects viewership to reach one billion. With all the excitement these past months have generated, it is hard not to notice a glaring discrepancy in representation. There is not one team from the Middle East that qualified. Is it because the sport is less popular in this region? Is it because the women don’t want to play? The answer to both questions is no. Soccer is in fact one of the most popular sports in the Middle East. According to a report on sports in the region, “Soccer is woven tightly into the lives and cultures of the peoples of the Middle East.” Anyone should be able to grab a ball, gather some neighborhood kids, and play a pickup game barefoot from Sao Paulo to Tokyo. But what about Kabul, Tehran, and Ankara? When girls or women try to enter the game, it isn’t as simple as it is for boys and men. This is especially true in the Middle East.

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US President Donald J. Trump on June 24 signed an executive order that he said would place “hard-hitting” sanctions on Iran’s supreme leader.


“The Supreme Leader of Iran is one who ultimately is responsible for the hostile conduct of the regime. He’s respected within his country.  His office oversees the regime’s most brutal instruments, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” Trump said before signing the order in the White House. “These measures represent a strong and proportionate response to Iran’s increasingly provocative actions,” he added.

The executive order allows US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to impose sanctions on officials appointed by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and those who provide material support to his office. “These sanctions will deny Iran’s leadership access to financial resources, blocking them from using the United States financial system or accessing any assets in the United States,” the White House said.

However, most analysts are skeptical about the efficacy of such action.

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Iran and its role in Syria are likely to be the main agenda item at the June 24-26 trilateral meeting of the US, Russian, and Israeli national security advisers in Israel. What US National Security Adviser John Bolton and his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat, want from Russia is clear: Moscow’s in reducing or even eliminating the Iranian presence in Syria. Russian National Security Adviser Nikolai Patrushev, though, is unlikely to meet their demands on this score.

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If the United States decides to strike back at Iran for its shooting down of a US drone on June 20, “the escalatory spiral” in the region “will only continue with potential disastrous consequences, according to Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council.

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In January 2018, eight members of the non-profit wildlife conservation Non-Governmental Organization, the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (PWHF), were arrested and held in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran. Managing Director Kavous Seyed-Emami soon died while being questioned. The others, plus an associate, were accused of spying on military installations on behalf of the US and Israel, and have since been held and subjected to different forms of torture and abuse. The author of this article was also falsely identified as a Central Intelligence Agency case officer involved.

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In early May, the United States deployed an aircraft carrier group, a bomber wing, and a Patriot Battery to the Gulf region reportedly in response to threats by Iran and its proxies. At the time, the potential for escalation seemed high with the Air Force flying “deterrence missions” and Iranian military leaders referring to the aircraft carrier as a “target.” Shortly after the United States announced the deployment, four ships—including two Saudi oil tankers and a Norwegian ship—were damaged and intelligence reporting of possible attacks prompted US Embassy Baghdad to evacuate non-essential personnel. In fact, after the evacuation, a rocket landed less than a mile from the embassy compound that appeared to have been launched from a Shia-dominated area of Baghdad. Around the same time, Houthi rebels in Yemen, who receive support from Iran, used drones to attack an oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia and may be responsible for recent attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

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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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