Atlantic Council: Can the U.S. Work With Iran? Challenges and Opportunities

June 16, 2016, Washington D.C.- The Atlantic Council held a symposium on Thursday, June 16 to discuss the implications of the one-year mark of the nuclear aspects of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, UK, USA, and Germany). The panels discussed whether the JCPOA can serve as a template for additional regional and international cooperation or whether domestic politics in the U.S. and Iran and Iran’s continuing difficulties re-entering the global financial system will put those opportunities out of reach for the foreseeable future.

The first panel, The Progress and Problems of Sanctions Relief was moderated by Elizabeth Rosenberg, director of the Energy, Economics, and Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. She was joined by panelists John E. Smith, acting director of the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), Teresa Archer Pratas, deputy head of the sanctions divisions at the European External Action Service, and George Kleinfeld, a sanctions expert at the law firm Clifford Chance. Smith explained the role of OFAC in administrating and enforcing sanctions against Iran, the process of their being lifted in accordance with the JCPOA, and the reluctance of financial institutions to invest in Iran post nuclear agreement.  Pratas further elaborated on the role of the EU and EEAS in negotiating and implementing the JCPOA and lifting sanctions, noting her hope for an opening of new business opportunities between the EU and Iran. Kleinfeld stated that the U.S. government has done an excellent job in providing valuable guidance to the international business community while living up to its commitments under the terms of the JCPOA. He said that international businesses are beginning to engage in commodities deals with low long-term risks, and that the majority of business has been conducted with state enterprises.

The second panel, The JCPOA’s effects on US-Iran Relations, was moderated by William Luers, director of the Iran Project regarding the JCPOA’s effect on U.S.-Iran relations. He was joined by panelists Negar Mortazavi, an Iranian-American journalist and analyst, Suzanne DiMaggio, director of the U.S.-Iran Initiative at New America Foundation, and Suzanne Maloney, deputy director of the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution. Mortazavi and Luers discussed the struggle between the radical hardliners and the moderate populists within the Iranian government, who are coming off of a strong showing in recent Parliamentary elections. Maloney stated that she views the JCPOA as an important part of the Obama administration’s non-proliferation policy, and DiMaggio explained that the governments of the U.S. and Iran have been collaborating for over three years under the JCPOA and the agreements which preceded it. She sees the goal as “turning this deal into something more enduring,” despite ongoing disagreements between the governments, especially in regards to the Syrian Civil War.

The third panel, The impact of the JCPOA on Iran’s role in regional conflicts, was moderated by Barbara Slavin, acting director of the Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative. She was joined by panelists Ellen Laipson, a senior fellow and president emeritus of the Stimson Center and former deputy chair of the National Intelligence Council, J. Matthew McInnis, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former senior analyst in the U.S. Department of Defense, and Bruce Riedel, director of the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution and a former senior director for the Near East and South Asia on the National Security Council. Riedel began the panel by stating that Saudi Arabia and the Wahhabist clerics view Iran and its Shiite regime as an “aggressive power that seeks to expand its sphere of influence in the region,” using the example of the Yemen War. McInnis continued on to elaborate on Iran’s complicated role in the Levant, struggling with proxies and supporting Shiite militias such as Hezbollah, while preserving its ally, the Assad regime in Syria. He maintained that there is potential for further escalation including a deployment of Iranian troops, though the regime does not favor this option. Laipson closed the panel by discussing Iran’s ambitions in the near future, saying that Iran has created a “strategic advantage” in the region as a byproduct of the U.S. intervention in Iraq. She stated that Iran feels that it should be a long-term party in shaping future policy in Iraq and Syria.

Lastly, keynote remarks were given by Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, on the legacy of the JCPOA. Rhodes maintained that the next U.S. president would precipitate a crisis in the Middle East and alienate America’s allies if they decide to tear up the nuclear agreement.  He stated that it would be “counter not just to US interests, but counter to the whole concept of how one initiates a presidency to decide that one of the very first things that [they are] going to do is precipitate a crisis in the Middle East that leads to potential nuclear proliferation.”

You can watch the full event here.

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