Five Years After Iran Deal Abandonment, It’s Time to Recognize Maximum Pressure Failed

May 8, 2023

WASHINGTON, DC – Today marks the fifth anniversary of former President Donald Trump’s unilateral abandonment of the Iran Deal and the start of his so-called “maximum pressure” campaign of ever-increasing sanctions. Trump’s destructive actions triggered an escalation with Iran that has hurt the essential security interests of the United States and its allies.

About one year after the US abrogation of the agreement, Iran resumed and eventually massively advanced its most sensitive nuclear activities, moving it closer to being able to build a nuclear weapon than ever before. The Iranian regime’s hardliners who had opposed the nuclear agreement and were empowered by the American abrogation of it ramped up their destabilizing activities in the region and beyond, launching missiles against US troops and increasing support for terrorist proxies, including those threatening Israel.

While President Joe Biden campaigned on a return to the JCPOA, his administration took several months to pursue indirect diplomacy on the nuclear issue, maintaining and in some cases adding to the previous administration’s nuclear sanctions on Iran. Weakened domestically by US abandonment of the agreement and ongoing US sanctions, the Iranian administration that had negotiated the deal lost the June 2021 presidential election to hardline opponents.

After further sporadic negotiations, Iran’s new administration backed away from near-agreement on a restored nuclear deal, while also provocatively providing drones to assist Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and brutally cracking down on the protest movement bravely led by Iranian women and men seeking freedom from the regime’s oppressive theocratic rule.

J Street believes it is time to recognize and move past the unmitigated failure of increasing sanctions and military threats. We have issued a report titled “After ‘Maximum Pressure’: Formulating an Effective US Strategy on Iran,” setting out how the United States can best advance American interests – and the interests of US allies like Israel – through strong diplomacy to counter the Iranian regime’s moves.

Five years after Trump’s disastrous abandonment of the Iran Deal, the record clearly shows that the security interests of the American people and our partners in the Middle East are better served by pragmatic diplomacy than reckless escalation. President Biden can retake the initiative, counter threats from Iran’s regime and reduce instability and conflict in the region — averting both a nuclear-armed Iran and another costly war in the Middle East.