On the whole, Washington's determination to destroy the "foolish deal" (as Pompeo recently called it)
and to continue pressure on Tehran is explained by a number of fundamental factors of US foreign policy with respect to Iran.
The contradictions between the United States and Iran are far from being limited to the nuclear programme. For a certain period of time (from 1995 to 2015), nuclear issues were indeed of paramount importance. All key sanctions against Iran's energy and financial sectors were linked to it. However, the list of Washington's claims is not limited to the nuclear issue. Among them are also demands to stop the development and testing of missile systems, stop supporting perceived terrorist movements (Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad
), disarm the Shiite militia in Iraq, stop supporting the Houthi rebels in Yemen, withdraw all Iranian forces from Syria, stop supporting "terrorists militias abroad”, stop threatening behaviour against US allies in the region (Saudi Arabia, UAE, etc.), and release US citizens and detained citizens from US allies. All these requirements were mentioned in the so-called "12 Demands of Pompeo
" - a list of requirements for Iran, which became the ideological basis for the US withdrawal from the JCPOA in 2018. In addition, the US does not hide its rejection of the political regime in Iran as authoritarian and theocratic. Washington is directly setting the task of its policy to pursue regime change in the interests of "liberating the Iranian people."
The reasons for Washington's diplomatic shift, from supporting the JCPOA in 2015 to completely abandoning it in 2018 and attacking its remnants in 2020, are rooted in domestic politics. In the United States, two competing views on Iranian policy have emerged. Obama’s Democratic administration proceeded from the premise that problems need to be solved in stages. It considered the key issue to be the risk of Iran getting nuclear weapons; this meant that it had to be solved in a broad coalition with allies and with the support of the UN. The Americans came to this conclusion even before Barack Obama came to power in 2008. Attempts to restrain the development of the nuclear programme via unilateral sanctions have been made by Washington since 1995. The confrontation with Tehran itself (including the use of sanctions) has lasted much longer - since the Islamic revolution of 1979. However, unilateral bans on Iranian oil exports and other sanctions were not implemented by US allies, or by the overwhelming majority of other players. Without the internationalisation of sanctions through the work of the UN Security Council and the formation of a broad coalition, the pressure on Iran was ineffective. Washington also had no opportunity to pass its entire package of claims to Iran through the UN Security Council. As a result, the nuclear deal was prioritised separately, although all other American claims were reflected in US sanctions legislation targeting Iran.
This approach has borne fruit. Four UN Security Council resolutions (1696, 1737, 1747 and 1929) consistently increased pressure on Iran in connection with the development of its nuclear programme. The embargo on the purchase of Iranian oil and financial sanctions caused serious damage to the country and became one of the important factors driving the initiation of negotiations on the JCPOA. Making the nuclear issue a separate priority brought American diplomacy a major victory. The US sanctions regime was significantly strengthened by the UN’s restrictive measures regime; the United States played an important role in the internationalisation of pressure on Tehran and, most importantly, achieved concrete results on Iran's nuclear programme.
Within the United States itself, the approach of the Obama administration met with serious criticism. It was connected with the fact that under the JCPOA, the United States (along with other members of the UN Security Council) were obliged to lift a significant proportion of sanctions (mainly against the energy and financial sectors of Iran), while all other problems in relations with Tehran remained unresolved. That is, Washington voluntarily deprived itself of an important instrument of pressure on Iran, linking itself only with the nuclear deal and leaving all other problems unresolved. Obama's policy was attacked by Congressional Republicans. In May 2015, the then-Republican-dominated Congress endorsed the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA - PL 114-17
). The law became a compromise between opponents and supporters of the JCPOA. It obliged the president to confirm (certify) every 90 days that Iran is indeed complying with the JCPOA. That is, Congress obliged the president to constantly keep the issue under control and report on it. Trump, who came to power in 2016, was an ardent opponent of the JCPOA, and used the INARA to torpedo the fulfilment of obligations under the JCPOA by the United States. On May 8, 2018, he announced the nation’s withdrawal from the JCPOA and the resumption of the sanctions regime
. Iran was given new prerequisites for lifting the sanctions: the same “12 points”. In other words, the Americans unilaterally violated their terms of the JCPOA and radically increased their demands on Iran.
This step created a serious problem for those hoping to find diplomatic solutions to the problem.