Statement on a Comprehensive Policy to Constrain Iran

Iranian-made Emad missile is displayed during a ceremony marking the 37th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, in Tehran.

“Reports indicate that President Donald Trump may refuse to certify Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA in October, which could lead to restoring sanctions against Iran that were suspended in 2015 in accordance with the agreement."

The United States would presumably re-establish unilateral sanctions against companies and nations that have begun economic and trade relations with Iran since the nuclear agreement was reached two years ago. This action might include extra-territorial sanctions against non-U.S. governments, banks and private companies. While the administration might delay renewing sanctions for a period of time, the intention of doing so would be clear.

The renewal of U.S. sanctions would most certainly result in Iran alleging the United States has violated the JCPOA and require a meeting of the Joint Commission (UK, France, Germany, Russia and China, plus Iran) to resolve the question of U.S. compliance. The renewal of U.S. sanctions would challenge European states and other nations to consider whether to acquiesce in U.S. Treasury demands or suffer potentially punishing fines for trading with and investing in Iran. A U.S. decision to renew sanctions in the absence of evidence of Iranian noncompliance would damage American leadership, raise the likelihood of legal disputes with European companies, banks and governments, and potentially directly challenge the power of the U.S. Treasury and the U.S. dollar as global reserve currency. Backing away from the JCPOA would also damage U.S. credibility as a partner in future diplomatic negotiations including with North Korea.

Europe, China and Russia could decide to continue observing the JCPOA should Iran continue to comply with its commitments restricting its nuclear program. Iran’s agreement would no doubt be based on assurances from Europe and others of continued sanctions relief, which would permit the expansion of trade and investment opportunities in Iran. Should this happen, it is the United States, rather than Iran, that would be isolated and damaged economically.

A clear break between the United States and Europe (EU) over the sanctions issues would allow Russia and China to move closer to achieving their longstanding goal of dividing the West. The collapse of the coalition that brought Iran to the negotiating table would destroy international unity in determining how to respond forcefully should Iran decide in the future to expand its nuclear program with an intention to build a nuclear weapon.

Alternatively Iran could respond to the U.S. rejection of the JCPOA by returning to its pre-agreement enrichment program at full strength and under far weaker international monitoring.

A restart of an unconstrained nuclear program could be the default Iranian reaction given the likelihood that at least some European and Asian companies will decline to do business in Iran if the U.S. re-imposes extra-territorial sanctions. Iran with a nuclear weapon would be a far greater threat to the region and U.S. security than it is today.

Security forces and other hard line elements in Iran would almost surely acquire more political power in the wake of a U.S. effort to scuttle the JCPOA.

A more dominant Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) role could result in heightened Iranian proxy and asymmetrical actions against the United States and its interests worldwide and further strengthen Iran’s strategic partnership with Russia, a relationship that so far has been based on expediency rather than on long historic ties or political affinity. More importantly a more powerful IRGC would weaken those within Iran who seek to reduce IRGC influence and to pursue the economic and social reforms proposed by recently re-elected President Rouhani.

Military conflict with Iran and its over 80 million people would become more likely, as U.S.-Iranian hostility mounts and as Saudi Arabia becomes emboldened by U.S. military support and the rise in American threats against Iran. An American effort to promote regime change through covert action, based on the false assumption that political forces exist inside Iran that are ready to overthrow the current government, would most certainly fail and lead directly toward conflict.

A war with Iran is more imaginable today than at any time since 2012.

Signed by:

Amb. (ret.) Morton Abramowitz, Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research, Ambassador to Thailand and Turkey

Amb. (ret.) Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and Ambassador to Greece

Joseph Cirincione, President of the Ploughshares Fund

Amb. (ret.) Chester A Crocker, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs

Tom Daschle, U.S. Senator and Senate Majority Leader

Suzanne DiMaggio, Senior Fellow and Director of the Iran Initiative at New America

Amb. (ret.) James Dobbins, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan

Robert Einhorn, Assistant Secretary for Nonproliferation and Secretary of State’s Special Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control

Leslie Gelb, Assistant Secretary of State for Politico-Military Affairs and Director of Policy Planning and Arms Control at the Department of Defense

Morton H. Halperin, Director of Policy Planning at the Department of State

Lee H. Hamilton, U.S. House of Representatives and Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee

Gary Hart, U.S. Senator and Special Envoy to Northern Ireland

Stephen B. Heintz, President, Rockefeller Brothers Fund

James Hoge, former Editor of Foreign Affairs Magazine