The Art of a New Iran Deal

What the World’s Diplomats Really Think of Trump’s Endgame in Iran

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gestures as he addresses the Innovation and Industry Forum during an official visit in Bern, Switzerland, July 2018 Denis Balibouse / REUTERS

A year ago, U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal on the grounds that he wanted a bigger, better agreement. Criticizing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) for its limited scope and scale, Trump has called for a deal that would impose longer-lasting, more stringent restrictions on Iran’s nuclear work, while limiting Tehran’s ballistic missile program and stemming its interference in neighboring countries. To get to such a grand bargain, the Trump administration has pledged to enlist the support of regional players as well as Congress.

How viable is Trump’s ambitious plan? Together with colleagues at Chatham House, I took this question, among others, to 75 analysts and policymakers in ten countries: the United States, Iran, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Israel, Russia, China, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. Respondents assessed the possibility that the United States could yet broker a grand bargain with Iran. They also answered questions relating to the nuclear, regional, and ballistic missile issues that have been under negotiation.

From this survey, we can determine how those most in the know—and likeliest to participate in future talks—evaluate Trump’s Iran policy and its prospects of success. The respondents were overwhelmingly skeptical, and many pointed to the same deficits. The U.S. administration has called for something—a deal—that requires diplomacy but then consistently reached only for the bluntest of coercive instruments. Washington has further undercut its prospects by failing to nurture its European alliances or to create favorable conditions for Tehran to engage in talks. Yesterday’s announcement that Iran will limit compliance with parts of the nuclear agreement is proof positive that the Trump approach is not working.


Most people we interviewed felt that Washington’s policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran was not meeting its stated objective of bringing Iran back to the negotiating table. Less than 20 percent of our respondents thought a grand bargain with Iran was achievable. The remaining respondents were

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