It won’t get the banner headlines of the latest outrage in the Russia investigation or North Korea’s most recent missile test, but we have entered perhaps the most consequential week for American policy toward Iran since implementation of the nuclear deal more than a year ago. As the Trump administration’s May 17 decision to extend sanctions waivers related to Iran’s nuclear program clearly attests, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is working—even in the eyes of its harshest critics. But several upcoming events—including the Iranian presidential election, Trump’s first overseas trip and potential Iran-related action in Congress—could change this picture. In isolation, each has the potential to stress, or even unravel, the multinational agreement that has successfully constrained Iran’s nuclear program through diplomacy and without recourse to war. Together, they risk creating a perfect storm.
On Friday, Iranian voters will head to the polls in the first round of a presidential election widely viewed as a referendum on the nuclear deal and economic benefits President Hassan Rouhani pledged it would deliver. This is perhaps the most consequential event—and the one furthest from U.S. control. Polls have consistently favored Rouhani; while all current candidates, including the hard-liners’ favorite Ibrahim Raisi, have endorsed the JCPOA, Rouhani would be the most committed to preserving it. But the electoral outcome is not a foregone conclusion; the hard-liners have been frantically mobilizing support for Raisi in recent days, his most serious conservative rival has dropped out, massive rallies have been held in his support, and the regime might well decide to rig the outcome in Raisi’s favor. Raisi’s election would, at a minimum, complicate efforts to preserve the JCPOA, particularly if it were met with escalation by Washington...
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