According to Robert Siegel, since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, relations between the U.S. and Iran have been hostile and between Israel and Iran “even more hostile.” In the face of Iran developing a nuclear warhead program, in 2015, Western powers entered into The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran, a nuclear nonproliferation agreement which pushed the length of time (the breakout) it would take Iran to enhance nuclear materials to weapons grade, and, in return, provided limited relief to Iran from international economic sanctions. The JCPOA was not without controversy and detractors. In 2018, Trump announced that the U.S. would unilaterally withdraw from the arrangement in an attempt to take a more aggressive stance with Iran. In direct response, in 2020, Iran announced that it would no longer abide by the terms of the JCPOA. What has followed is increased tension and instability in the Middle East with the constant threat of a nuclear Iran.
Posing the query “What are the choices in this complex and dangerous situation,” Robert Siegel engaged with a panel of experts: David Ignatius, Associate Editor and Foreign Affairs columnist for The Washington Post, Ambassador Michael Oren (Israeli Ambassador to the United States 2009-2013), David Horovitz, founding editor of the Times of Israel, and Roya Hakakian, founding member of Iran Human Rights Documentation Center. The opinions expressed by the panelists about the conflict with Iran and the JCPOA were wide-ranging, from outright antipathy toward the JCPOA (Oren and Horovitz) to a realistic assessment of the conflict and possibilities for its resolution (Ignatius). Hakakian contributed on-the-ground social insights about the Iranian citizenry.
Ignatius argues that, in absence of JCPOA limits, Iran has intensified its program of focused enrichment of its nuclear materials and is simultaneously rapidly advancing its technology to develop a nuclear warhead. The Biden Administration is concerned that Iran is fast approaching a key point in this program. Robert Siegel asks Ignatius why the U.S. has an interest in the Persian Gulf.
There are many who believe that the increasingly tense situation will culminate in war; however, Ignatius asserts that the U.S. and Israel believe that war is not inevitable and that other pathways will become apparent. In fact, Ignatius identifies two potential outcomes. One, reflecting the continuing concerns of Europe, Russia, and China to contain the Iranian nuclear weapons program, is the potential for the formulation of a new agreement with the Iranian Regime. And, if a new arrangement is not brought to fruition, military action remains a possibility, albeit one that is counterintuitive to what the U.S. wants to achieve in the area, which is to lessen its influence and involvement.
Article by Jonas Plaut, Columbia University
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