Image credit: CNAS

January 30, 2019

A Realistic Path for Progress on Iran: 12 Guiding Principles to Achieve U.S. Policy Goals

Washington, January 30 - The Trump administration has adopted an aggressive Iran strategy. Under this approach, the United States seeks to achieve – via the application of maximum pressure – nothing short of a fundamental change to policies that have defined the Islamic Republic for decades. If the administration is serious about making progress on the biggest challenges facing U.S. Iran policy, it must be more than simply aggressive. It also will need a smart, pragmatic, and patient policy.

To that end, CNAS has launched a new report, "A Realistic Path for Progress on Iran: 12 Guiding Principles to Achieve U.S. Policy Goals," by Eric Brewer, Elisa Catalano Ewers, Ilan Goldenberg, Peter Harrell, Nicholas A. Heras, Elizabeth Rosenberg, and Ariane Tabatabai. The report aims to provide guiding principles and concrete policy suggestions for how to make realistic progress in preventing Iran from building a nuclear weapon, countering its destabilizing behavior, and engaging constructively under the assumption that the United States does not return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and that it continues its current pressure campaign.

The report outlines 12 actions key to achieving U.S. policy goals:

  1. Clarify through words and action that the U.S. administration’s strategy is not regime change but a “big for big” trade and reinforce the benefits to Iran of reaching a deal.
  2. Keep communications channels with Iran open while pursuing the goal of high-level talks.
  3. Foster an environment where Iran continues to adhere to the nuclear restrictions and transparency measures in the JCPOA.
  4. Develop a set of calibrated options to deter those Iranian nuclear activities that matter most and begin laying the groundwork for a realistic long-term solution to the Iranian nuclear challenge.
  5. Seek realistic limitations on Iran’s missile program and strengthen counter-proliferation efforts.
  6. Use sanctions policy, and other tools, to maximize pressure by highlighting Iran’s non-nuclear illicit activities.
  7. Mitigate the negative effects of unilateral U.S. sanctions toward Iran on the U.S. economy and preserve the foundation for effective sanctions on Iran over the long term.
  8. Work more closely with Arab partners to counter Iranian irregular warfare.
  9. In Syria, manage the withdrawal of U.S. forces in such a way that prioritizes preventing a reemergence of ISIS, but also tries to limit Iranian gains to the extent possible.
  10. Pursue a patient strategy in Lebanon to slowly undercut Hezbollah’s influence by building up viable alternatives.
  11. Demonstrate a clear, long-term commitment to Iraq.
  12. Offer the Saudis a clear choice in Yemen: greater U.S. involvement in exchange for a fundamental shift in how the war is conducted or an end to American support.

Read the full report

For more information or to schedule an interview with one of the authors, contact Cole Stevens at