On Iran, other powers may have incentives to undermine the United States, if they think economic relief for Tehran is the only way to resolve the crisis. European countries have been scrambling to calm tensions, especially since Iran threatened in May to breach the nuclear deal absent economic incentives. Russia’s national security adviser vowed that Moscow would look out for Iran’s interests at an upcoming meeting of Russian, U.S., and Israeli officials this week.
There are, meanwhile, faint signs of softening on both sides. The administration has offered to negotiate without preconditions. Critics of Barack Obama’s nuclear deal complain that the deal addressed only the nuclear issue and left other destabilizing Iranian activity, including ballistic-missile testing and support for militant proxies, in place—Pompeo last year laid out 12 far-reaching demands touching on those and other issues he said would have to be a part of any new deal. But Trump seemed to walk that back slightly over the weekend, telling NBC’s Chuck Todd on Meet the Press: “I think they want to make a deal. And my deal is nuclear. Look, they’re not going to have a nuclear weapon … I don’t think they like the position they’re in. Their economy is, is absolutely broken.”
Read: Is there still a deal to be done with Iran?
Monday, however, he vowed that the U.S. would increase the pressure on Tehran “until the regime abandons its dangerous activities and its aspirations, including the pursuit of nuclear weapons, increased enrichment of uranium, development of ballistic missiles, engagement in support for terrorism, fueling of foreign conflicts, and belligerent acts directed against the United States and its allies.”
For the Iranians’ part, Ray Takeyh, a Middle East scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations, has argued that the recent attacks attributed to or claimed by Iran are intended not to start a war, but to enter negotiations from a position of strength. “Before negotiating with the United States, Iran needs a narrative of success,” he wrote in Politico Magazine. “And the events of the past few days, in which the Trump administration threatened and then backed off a military confrontation, have finally provided Tehran with a justification to enter talks with, in Iran’s telling, a chastened Washington.”
Washington, however, is certainly not presenting itself as chastened. While the administration has stuck with sanctions for the time being, Trump was quick to warn: “I think a lot of restraint has been shown by us—a lot of restraint—and that doesn’t mean we’re going to show it in the future.”