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Note: Readers are encouraged to listen to the audio’s extended Q&A (45 minutes) that followed the speakers’ introductory briefing. Additional topics discussed are Israel’s response to Washington’s withdrawal from the Iran deal, Russia’s shifting role in the region, Europe’s reaction to US sanctions, and further details on Iran’s internal pressures.

Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and a leading critic of Tehran’s illicit behavior, briefed the Middle East Forum in a conference call on May 15, 2018.​

Washington’s withdrawal from the deeply flawed Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) is designed to force Tehran into a revised agreement that will truly block its road to nuclear weapons, stop its program of long-range ballistic missiles/ICBMs, and curb its regional expansionism.

To this end, many of the lifted and/or suspended sanctions will be reinstated, with new sanctions imposed on Iran’s energy and financial sectors, notably the national bank - a key pillar of the economy and a mainstay of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Washington will likewise strive to build a broad coalition of states determined to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, including some Asian nations, Australia, India, the Gulf states and Israel - the countries most threatened by Iran.

European attempts to circumvent the new sanctions are likely to fail as global financial institutions are loath to run afoul of the U.S. dollar. Similarly doubtful is the European-Iranian plan to wait out the administration’s pressure campaign in the hope that the Democrats will regain legislative control in the autumn mid-term elections and reverse the sanctions policy.

Tehran’s threats to renew uranium enrichment, along increased investment in its conventional power projection capabilities, are aimed at both keeping the Europeans in the JCPOA and diverting Iranian public attention from the deepening economic malaise and widening domestic unrest throughout the country. And while a regime change doesn’t seem to be in the offing given the government’s repressive measures and the absence of a unified protest movement, the deposed shah’s grandson, Reza Pahlavi, who resides in the U.S., has gained public exposure in Iran and could emerge as a leader in exile.

Washington’s maximum pressure campaign is reminiscent of the Reagan administration’s National Security Decision Directive 75, which employed all available foreign policy tools - financial, economic, diplomatic and political - to contain and roll back Moscow’s expansionism until the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union. A similar strategy vis-à-vis the repressive and expansionist Iranian regime should be a no lesser U.S. national security priority.

Summary account by Marilyn Stern, Communications Coordinator for the Middle East Forum