Iran Dialogue Series Briefing Paper: Conflicting Timelines and Agendas, and the Road to Potential Revival of the JCPOA

By Dr. Sanam Vakil, deputy director of the Chatham House Middle East North Africa Programme and Dr. Gawdat Bahgat, professor of National Security Affairs at National Defense University’s Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies

19 April 2021


During his 2020 campaign for the White House, Joe Biden made clear his intention to return to the Iran nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on a compliance for compliance basis. Biden suggested the U.S. would return to the deal and lift nuclear related sanctions after President Trump’s May 2018 withdrawal. These actions would be met by Tehran’s return to the terms of the 2015 JCPOA that had been incrementally scaled down as part of Iran’s effort to respond to the pressure from Washington and Europe’s acquiescence.

Yet, the planned US return to the deal, the timeline, the sequencing of US compliance, and Iran’s reversal of its nuclear commitments have all been complicated by conflicting timelines and differing domestic pressures in Tehran, Washington, and European capitals coupled with the broader objectives of negotiating beyond the JCPOA. Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Saudi Arabia’s lobbying efforts to stymie a quick U.S. return to the deal in favour of a protracted negotiation that addresses missile capabilities and regional issues alongside nuclear ones have also impacted these timelines. Among the many consequences that have emerged as a result of Trump’s maximum pressure campaign has been the gulf of mistrust that has widened not only between Tehran and Washington, but between Washington and Europe, Europe and Iran, regional states and Washington, and of course between Iran and its neighbours.

This policy brief lays out the differing perspectives and strategies emerging from the various capitals and draws out the limited opportunities and multiple challenges that lie ahead for JCPOA negotiations alongside regional ones. Weighing the deliberations and respective positions can make clear the risks and prospects for the months ahead.

Read the complete paper here.

The views presented in this article are those of the speaker or author and do not necessarily represent the views of DoD or its components.

This paper forms a part of a joint Chatham House-NESA Center project led by the authors and aiming to provide forward-looking and innovative research and analysis designed to answer critical questions on Iran’s political, social, and economic evolution.

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