Iran, the JCPOA and tensions in the gulf – three expert views

In early June BICOM published a strategic assessment which examines the dilemma that Iran poses for the UK in light of the transatlantic gap between the US and E3 (UK, France and Germany) over the JCPOA and outlines guidelines to respond to Iran’s regional behaviour. In the context of increased tension in the Gulf, James Sorene interviewed three experts about the UK-Iran relationship, the nuclear deal, Iran’s likely response to the US’s “maximum pressure” strategy, and how to move forward. These interviews comprise episode 57 of BICOM’s weekly podcast, which can be listened to here.

Professor Ali Ansari, Professor of Modern History, St. Andrews University

Ansari argues that now is the time for the UK to develop a distinct strategy from the US and the Europeans, in opening up dialogue with more receptive elements of the Iranian regime. The UK’s unique history with Iran, as well as the greater level of respect that Iranians have for the British, gives the UK a unique position in the conflict. Ansari believes that Iranian hardliners are likely to consolidate their position in domestic politics as a result of the “maximum pressure” strategy from the US, which may result in more attacks like the ones in the Gulf of Oman, as a way of the regime negotiating its relationship with the West and gaining more leverage if and when nuclear negotiations resume.


Dr Sanam Vakil, Senior Research Fellow at Chatham House

Vakil argues that the US’s “maximum pressure” strategy is hurting ordinary Iranians more than the hardline elements in the regime. The dramatic fall in the economy has not resulted in mass demonstrations in the streets, as many analysts predicted, due to the fear from Iranians of living through the chaos and violence that has inhabited the region since the ‘Arab Spring’. Iran’s decision-making elites are frustrated and may be already seeking ways to avoid greater confrontation with the US. Vakil describes the debate between whether Iran should engage with Trump before the 2020 elections or wait and gamble that a Democrat will bring the US back into the deal or represent a better negotiating partner.


Dr Emily B. Landau, Arms Control and Regional Security Program, Institute for National Security Studies (INSS)

Landau argues that the Europeans’ attempt to undermine the US’s pressure campaign on Iran (to renegotiate the JCPOA) is misguided because Iran doesn’t want to renegotiate, and pressure is the only strategy that has a chance of forcing it back to the table. There is no middle ground between the West and Iran on the nuclear issue – Iran wants a breakout capability and the West does not want Iran to have one. Landau argues that JCPOA proponents fail to grasp the problems of the deal itself, including the sunset and inspection provisions, and that the deal’s expiration date is a serious problem.

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