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The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal, maximum pressure sanctions, the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, and provocative threats from President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo have dramatically escalated tensions with Iran and increased the prospect of war. Confrontation with Iran has been a top priority of the Trump administration. Wars in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq continue to make the prospect of war with Iran even more likely.

Maximum pressure has been a maximum failure.

In 2020, following the assassination of Soleimani, Congress passed bicameral, bipartisan legislation reasserting congressional war powers. Even though the president vetoed Sen. Tim Kaine’s (VA) Iran war powers resolution, Congress strongly signaled that they have not authorized war with Iran. Congress must continue opposing the administration’s hawkish posture toward Iran and do all it can to prevent a military conflict.

The impact of U.S. sanctions on Iran’s economy and civilian population cannot be overstated. Hardliners in Iran’s government have been strengthened since U.S. withdrawal of the nuclear deal while poverty has increased and space for civil society has become increasingly smaller. The IMF estimates that Iran’s economy contracted by 7.6 percent in 2019; this year it projects a further 6 percent contraction.

Sanctions have proven to be a serious obstacle to humanitarian efforts as well. The Trump administration’s “maximum pressure campaign” has led most international banks and lenders to steer clear of doing any business with Iran for fear of being implicated in sanctions violations. In the context of COVID-19 in Iran – initially a Middle Eastern hub for the virus – the result has been deficiencies in the vital equipment and supplies necessary to detect, treat, and stop the spread of COVID-19.

Congress must ensure that sanctions are not inhibiting humanitarian efforts and should push for a temporary general license that allows parties to engage in humanitarian trade with Iran. This would also increase transparency around the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement and bolster the chances of a return to diplomatic agreement.

Through the JCPOA, the United States and others were effectively able to work through separate diplomatic channels to address Iran’s human rights abuses and secure the release of the U.S. citizens still detained in Iran. Sabotaging this deal has made it harder to negotiate on these and other issues, including Iran’s ballistic missile program and de-escalation of the wars in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. It has also brought us dangerously close to the brink of unnecessary war. Instead, the United States needs to exercise military restraint and renew diplomatic engagement with Iran.