U.S. Policy toward Iran, One Year After Lausanne

U.S. Policy toward Iran, One Year After Lausanne

America must build on positive momentum without turning a blind eye to Tehran's aggressive moves. Here's how to strike that balance.


The United States also should put meat on the bones of its commitment to deepen its cooperation more broadly with the Gulf States and Israel on countering Iran’s support for proxies in the Middle East. America and its partners should establish a multinational joint task force intended to deal with the threats posed by both the IRGC and its proxies as well as Sunni extremism. Such an effort would include an intelligence fusion center to share information, joint training and exercises aimed at countering unconventional warfare, and, where appropriate, targeted joint operations. Such an approach can be complemented with sustained and public defense and intelligence dialogues and strategy sessions between Washington and a number of regional partners on countering Iran’s support for Hezbollah, Shia militias in Iraq and the regime of Bashar al Assad. Such steps were anticipated after the Camp David Summit last year.


As focus remains on the sanctions windfall to Iran and the steady stream of businesses seeking to reengage Iran’s economy, the United States should continue to exercise its well-established tools to levy targeted sanctions where they matter most—particularly using its terrorism-related authorities. U.S. agencies should take action when possible to make clear that foreign entities dealing with the IRGC, along with its front companies, in sectors such as oil, construction and banking, as well as potentially new areas that support the ballistic-missile program, are subject to serious U.S. sanctions. Unless America exercises these authorities smartly and aggressively when necessary, partners will consider such tools to be empty threats.


Being consistent on civil and human rights: Finally, the completion of the recent Iranian elections presents an opportunity for Washington to reassert a strong narrative against the Iranian regime’s repressive domestic tactics. Despite the outcome of the elections, the fact remains that Iranian activists and political oppositionists who seek to challenge the hard-line establishment have been routinely jailed, intimidated into silence or worse. America speaks out against this kind of repression the world over; it should not refrain from doing so in the aftermath of Iran’s elections as circumstances arise.


Striking the Balance


The nuclear agreement born in Lausanne was historic. Implementation of the JCPOA thus far has exceeded expectations, and even skeptics appear to recognize that the diligence applied to the first months of the process seems to be working so far. Still, Iran’s aptitude for aggressive behaviors towards its neighborhood and the United States has not changed and is likely to continue in the year ahead. The challenge will be striking the right balance. Washington must continue to build on the positive momentum of the past year to underpin verifiable and thorough implementation of the nuclear deal. But it must also remain firm and respond to provocative actions with proportional but meaningful countermeasures that signal to Iran and the world that there is a price for violating international norms. Doing less undermines the principle that states are expected to act responsibly, and feeds the perception that America is willing to turn a blind eye to Iran’s aggressive behavior in order to preserve the deal. Neither is in the U.S. interest.


Elisa Catalano Ewers served most recently as a Director on the Middle East and North Africa team at the National Security Council, and previously served as Senior Policy Advisor to the United States Ambassador to UN. Ilan Goldenberg is the Director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, and previously served as Iran Team Chief in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.


[1] The agreement at Lausanne spelled out the broad parameters of an eventual nuclear agreement between the P5+1 members and Iran, specifically with respect to Iran’s nuclear enrichment activities, certain enrichment and reprocessing facilities, monitoring and inspections and transparency, and sanctions relief.