The new US administration has made clear that it will re-engage Iran’s leadership on its nuclear programme. This is understandable but, before it does so, it should frame the engagement very carefully.
While it is true that the 2015 nuclear agreement had a limiting impact on Iran’s nuclear programme, it suffered from two major problems: its narrow scope and the absence of the regional players. Since 2015, both of these issues have become more, not less, important.
Supporters of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal – or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – claim it was never intended to address issues beyond Tehran’s nuclear programme.
The hope was that it would provide a platform for collaboration on other issues, building trust and ultimately normalising the Islamic Republic. Yet just 13 days after it was signed in July 2015, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ruled out follow-on negotiations, saying neither the deal nor any material incentives would alter Iran’s support for its regional militias or its ballistic missile programme.
While a piecemeal approach to resolving disputes with Iran sounds plausible, in practice the nuclear agreement could not and cannot be separated from its regional destabilisation or its ballistic missile programme.