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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 former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dramatically escalated tensions with Iran and increased the prospect of war. FCNL supports a full return to the Iran nuclear deal, as well as further diplomacy to address the full range of areas of disagreement between the United States and Iran.

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 to support diplomacy with Iran and oppose threats of military escalation. 

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 from the nuclear deal while poverty has increased and space for civil society has become increasingly smaller. U.S. sanctions have severely impacted Iranian civilians by raising the prices of food and essential medicines. 

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 the virus.

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.