Analysis & Opinions - The Hill

How to Defuse Gulf Tensions and Avoid War with Iran

| June 24, 2019

The Trump administration has spent over a year attempting to pressure Iran back to the negotiating table to get a “better deal” than the 2015 nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). That strategy has failed. Iran has demonstrated that it is willing to risk war rather than endure the humiliation of negotiating “with somebody who has a knife in his hand.” And President Trump has indicated he doesn’t want to go to war in the Middle East.

Nevertheless, the United States and Iran are locked in a cycle of brinkmanship where each escalation could lead over a cliff to a wider war in the Middle East.

At such a moment, it is important for policymakers to remember what they are trying to achieve. The Trump administration’s pressure campaign was never aimed primarily at Iran’s nuclear program. The JCPOA placed strict limits on Iran’s nuclear progress, and Iran continued to abide by the agreement despite the withdrawal of the United States from the deal and the reapplication of sanctions. It is true that Iran recently threatened to begin building up stocks of low enriched uranium and heavy water. But, for now, Iran’s output of these materials is easily reversed and a minor concern.

The Trump administration’s principal complaints were with what the nuclear deal left out. There was no commitment on Iran’s part to dial back its interference in the military and political conflicts across the region, from Syria to Iraq to Yemen. And Iran refused to accept constraints on ballistic missile development.

Iran’s position on these issues has been, and remains, that they can’t be resolved without negotiations with other states in the region — first and foremost, Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia and the other Arab Gulf states, bolstered by massive and unconditional support from the Trump administration, have refused to engage.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Malin, Martin.“How to Defuse Gulf Tensions and Avoid War with Iran.” The Hill, June 24, 2019.