A Realistic Path for Progress on Iran

12 Guiding Principles to Achieve U.S. Policy Goals
January 30, 2019

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear
  • Missile


Eric Brewer, Elisa Catalano Ewers, Ilan Goldenberg, Peter Harrell, Nicholas A. Heras, Elizabeth Rosenberg, and Ariane Tabatabai


Center for a New American Security

The Trump administration has adopted an aggressive Iran strategy. 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 not since its founding, and have been a constant source of tension with the United States. Although the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and re-impose sanctions on Iran has garnered most of the attention, the administration also is leveraging diplomatic, law enforcement, informational, and other tools to apply pressure across of range of issues: Iran's missile program, support for terrorism, regional influence, and human rights record. 

The authors of this report believe U.S. interests would have been better served by remaining in the nuclear deal and by retaining its small contingent of U.S. forces in Syria. However, these debates are now moot. Our policy recommendations are therefore tailored toward achieving U.S. objectives assuming there is no American return to the JCPOA, and that President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria is implemented. 

The stated U.S. goal is to force Iran back to the negotiating table for a comprehensive deal that addresses not just the nuclear and missile program, but the full array of Iran’s destabilizing activities. Although the administration has denied that it seeks regime change, its approach of pushing Iran to the breaking point suggests that collapse of the government is an acceptable, perhaps even desirable, outcome if Iran does not capitulate on U.S. terms.

Last May, following the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo laid out 12 core issues where the administration was seeking change from Iran. (For a detailed list of these demands, see Annex 1.) We do not believe that getting resolution on all of these issues—which are sources of longstanding tension between the United States and Iran—is realistic. But 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. 


Read the full report at Center for a New American Security