One of U.S. President Donald Trump’s chief foreign-policy objectives is to persuade or force the Iranian government to abandon policies that pose a threat to U.S. interests—namely, the country’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs as well as its support for terrorists in the region. To this end, the administration has pulled the United States out of the nuclear deal achieved under President Barack Obama, reimposed sanctions on Iran, and undertaken a pressure campaign to try to force Iran back to the negotiating table to strike a new bargain.
In its efforts to cajole Iran, however, the United States could be making a mistake if it assumes that more pressure will automatically bring it closer to its goals. Particularly when it comes to measures aimed at Iran’s nuclear program, more pressure could heighten nuclear risks and further drive a wedge between the United States and its European allies.
In the months leading up to and since Trump’s announcement that he was pulling the United States out of the nuclear deal, many Iran watchers have taken to the pages of prominent foreign-policy outlets, including this one, to argue for or against the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran deal and provide recommendations for what the United States should do next. Advocates of the tough approach, such as Mark Dubowitz of the Federation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) and the Council on Foreign Relations’ Ray Takeyh, see economic sanctions and political isolation as critical to achieving a new, better deal or compelling the regime to change its policies by other means.
Although some experts, such as Dubowitz and his FDD colleague Richard Goldberg, have offered specific suggestions, there doesn’t appear to be a consensus on what sanctions and isolation should entail in practice. In addition, such observers have paid relatively little attention to how the United States should execute what will likely be a yearslong campaign of maximum pressure aimed at a new deal while mitigating the risks of Iranian nuclear advances and further provocations that such a strategy will likely produce. In essence, observers may be losing sight of the broader objective and thus offering some counterproductive ideas.
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