A COVID-19 treatment center in Tehran, Iran, April 2020
Wana News Agency / Reuters

Just five years ago, it looked as though Iran and the United States were moving toward more open relations. In 2015, the United States and five other world powers negotiated an agreement that markedly reduced Iran’s capacity to develop nuclear weapons and established the most intrusive nuclear inspection regime in the history of the International Atomic Energy Agency. As a part of that deal, the United States unfroze some Iranian assets and removed some sanctions, allowing Iran to export oil and seek foreign investment to revive its crippled economy.

But the situation abruptly changed in May 2018, when U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the agreement, even though all U.S. partners to the deal agreed that Iran was in compliance. Trump demanded that Iran eliminate both its civilian and military nuclear programs, halt missile testing and production, and end support for terrorist proxies. He also punished European companies doing business with Iran with secondary sanctions designed to cut them off from U.S. markets.

Since then, events have spiraled in a dangerous direction. In January, the United States assassinated Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, provoking a retaliatory attack on Ain al-Asad airbase in Iraq that injured more than 60 American

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  • STUART E. EIZENSTAT is former Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, Under Secretary of Commerce, Ambassador to the European Union, and Chief White House Domestic Policy Adviser under the Clinton and Carter administrations. He is the author of President Carter: The White House Years.
  • THOMAS R. PICKERING is Vice Chair of Hills & Company and served for more than four decades as a U.S. diplomat, including as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and Ambassador to Russia, India, the United Nations, Israel, El Salvador, Nigeria, and Jordan.  
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