Contain, Enforce, and Engage: An Integrated U.S. Strategy to Address Iran’s Nuclear and Regional Challenges

October 26, 2017

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear
  • Missile


William J. Burns, Michèle A. Flournoy, Jarrett Blanc, Elisa Catalano Ewers, Ilan Goldenberg, Ariel (Eli) Levite, Elizabeth Rosenberg, Karim Sadjadpour


Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Center for New American Security


The United States ended a thirty-five-year diplomatic vacuum with Tehran with one objective in mind: to stop it from developing a nuclear weapon.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) did precisely that. It cut off Iran’s pathways to a bomb, sharply constrained its nuclear program, and subjected it to an unprecedentedly strict monitoring and verification regime. The JCPOA is far from perfect and required coming to terms with painful realities and making difficult compromises—the inevitable outcome of tough, multilateral negotiations. Nevertheless, the JCPOA was successful in halting, and in some cases reversing, Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon, at least for the next decade. Iran today is much further away from a nuclear bomb, and the prospect of direct military conflict between the United States and Iran is forestalled. We are safer. Our partners in the region are safer. And the world is safer.

The JCPOA, essential as it is to retain and implement effectively, however, must not be the end of the diplomatic road with Iran. It is merely the beginning, the cornerstone of a broader, longer-term strategy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and to diminish and counter Iran’s threatening behavior—from its growing ballistic missile arsenal, to its dangerous use of regional proxies, to its human rights abuses at home.

This report outlines the key elements of such a strategy—a tough-minded approach to playing a strong American hand against an adversary that is formidable, but hardly ten feet tall. It calls on the United States to continue to enforce rigorous implementation of the nuclear agreement; to embed the agreement in a wider regional strategy deploying all elements of American power to limit Iran’s ability to meddle in the internal affairs of our regional partners or threaten Israel; and to engage Iran to avoid inadvertent escalation, make clear our profound concerns with Iran’s behavior at home and abroad, address the eventual sunset of JCPOA nuclear limits, and test opportunities to advance shared interests. This is all easier said than done. There will be no avoiding complicated tradeoffs. But it is an honest and realistic guide for U.S. policy today and in the difficult years ahead.

Read the full report at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.