“The Iranians understood that everything is falling apart” and, at first cautiously, resumed their nuclear program, said INSS’s Sima Shine, who previously worked on Iran at Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs and intelligence agency Mossad.
Drawing on the findings of the simulation, Shine sketched out for me one possible scenario for how things could play out in the coming weeks and months. Trump might finally follow through on his threats and announce that he will no longer waive sanctions on Iran. But since the deadline that the president is facing at the end of this week involves only sanctions related to the import of Iranian oil, and deadlines for waiving other sanctions imposed over Iran’s nuclear program are coming up in July, Trump could offer a temporary exemption for reinstating the sanctions in order to give the various parties another couple months to address his concerns about the deal—similar to how he has strung along trade talks with Canada, Mexico, and the European Union through short-term tariff exemptions.
Trump’s action would likely be greeted with support from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an unsparing critic of Barack Obama’s negotiations with Iran, and few others. The Iranians might initially react with restraint, Shine told me, since they don’t want to be blamed for the nuclear agreement falling apart, and since the United States wouldn’t be in violation of the pact until the reinstated sanctions go into effect. Still, they are also likely to resist prodding by the Europeans, who they know are more susceptible to coercion from the United States than from Iran, to compromise in ways that could result in some new and improved Iran deal—an objective both Trump and his main European interlocutor, French President Emmanuel Macron, have recently committed to pursuing.
The Russians are capable of wringing more concessions from the Iranians than the Europeans are, Shine noted. (In last fall’s simulation, the Russian group came up with a novel grand bargain: Russia would demand that the Iran deal be extended another 10 years and that limitations be placed on Iran’s missile program and presence in Syria. In exchange, the United States would remove sanctions placed on Russia over its military intervention in Ukraine. The U.S. group didn’t accept the offer.) But the deterioration in relations between Russia and Western countries over election meddling, the nerve-agent attack against a former Russian spy in England, and the Syrian Civil War, means Russia, Europe, and the United States are unlikely to work together to secure such concessions.
Ultimately, Shine expects the European and Russian mediation efforts to fail, and the Trump administration to allow U.S. sanctions against Iran to snap back sometime in the next several months, effectively withdrawing the United States from the Iran deal. “I deeply believe that [Trump] wants to get rid of this agreement,” she said. He seems to think that Iran will find itself in such dire economic circumstances that it will enter into talks on another agreement, just as international sanctions helped bring North Korea to negotiations over its nuclear-weapons program.