Experts on what’s next with Iran

Iran announced on Wednesday that it will reduce its commitments to the JCPOA — the 2015 nuclear deal ― a year to the day after President Trump announced that the U.S. was withdrawing from the international accord.

EXPERTS ON WHAT’S NEXT — David Petraeus, former commander of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) and CIA Director, told Jewish Insider in an email: “I think that one of the big questions this year and next revolves around whether Iran decides – say, in 2019 – to pursue back-channel discussions with the U.S. or just tightens its belt a few more notches until the U.S. election in November 2020. I tend to think it unlikely that Iran would directly engage U.S. forces in the Gulf region given the considerable American capability to respond and uncertainty about what President Trump might be willing to do.”

“There is, to be sure, the possibility of so-called ‘asymmetric’; or indirect Iranian action; however, any attribution for such action to Iran would hold the possibility of a significant US response.”

FDD’s Mark Dubowitz: “By expanding their nuclear program, Iran is trying to freak out the Europeans and encourage them to confront the U.S. by activating their sanctions-busting pathways for European-Iranian trade. Washington should respond by sector-based sanctions against remaining areas of Iran’s economy like construction, engineering, and mining as well as by denying visas to any European officials enabling the use of any kind of workarounds.”

Hudson Institute’s Mike Doran in a phone interview with Jewish Insider: “Maximum pressure to me would mean two things. It would mean attempting directly and clearly to take away from Iran everything it had gained by the JCPOA — but we’re not doing that. We’re still issuing waivers for their civil nuclear program. And secondly, it would mean bringing their oil trade to an absolute standstill — and we haven’t done that yet either. We’re getting closer. We keep ratcheting it up, but we are still issuing some waivers that are, in effect, allowing Iran to sell oil. We’re also not challenging Iran on the ground, directly. We’re only challenging them through proxies. So maximum pressure would be a full court press across the board. Maximum pressure-minus would be to try to totally reverse the JCPOA away.”

Doran added: “We are in a conflict with Iran and you can’t take this nuclear program away from them without conflict. We shouldn’t kid ourselves. The Iranians are threatening to withdraw from the JCPOA because they can see that maximum pressure is coming and that the administration is serious about reversing their gains. They’re going to fight to preserve the gains they got with the JCPOA. So yes, there’s a conflict coming, it’s already begun. Does the administration have the stomach for it? I think so. I hope so.”

JINSA’s Michael Makovsky: “President Trump was correct in withdrawing from the JCPOA. It was something I had called for, as long as the administration was prepared to address a possible Iranian escalation. Historically, U.S. (or Israeli) military threats have been the most successful tool in deterring in Iranian action — far more than sanctions have been — as the Iranians clearly do not want to confront a determined America with overwhelming military superiority. However, Iran might choose to gradually ramp up its nuclear program in contradiction to the JCPOA, with the expectation that the American response will be meager. Trump will then need to back his prior warning to Iran not to escalate its nuclear program. As long as Trump is viewed as credibly determined to confront Iran militarily, beyond economic pressure, I believe Iran will avoid a conflict, thereby reducing tension in the region.”

Jason Brodsky, a policy director at United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI): “I think the pressure really is going to be on Iran to come to the table. We’re already seeing Zarif making some public overtures, using the Kim Jong-un approach, trying to decouple the president from his advisors. That’s a hinted overture, testing the president’s receptiveness to talk. I think that Iran is not likely to undertake any action that significantly rocks the boat because it is playing the long game and it wants to wait out the Trump administration at least until 2021 to try to see if they can get a better deal out if a Democrat were to win.” 

By Jacob Kornbluh in New York

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