ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
It has been one year since President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal. Iran and the other countries have stayed in the agreement. Now, Tehran and Washington are both raising the stakes. Iran is threatening to stop complying with two provisions of the deal, and the Trump administration is imposing a new round of sanctions that will hurt Iran's economy even more.
Ariane Tabatabai is an Iran analyst with the RAND Corporation, and she joins us now to make sense of these moves. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
ARIANE TABATABAI: Thanks for having me.
SHAPIRO: So Iran says that it is not withdrawing from the deal as the U.S. did, but it's taking some steps away from it. What exactly did President Hassan Rouhani announce today?
TABATABAI: Yeah, that's right. The Iranians are still eager to remain in the deal because they believe that right now, the blame is essentially entirely on the United States. And they look like the responsible party that is continuing compliance with the deal, despite the U.S. withdrawal. The steps that were announced were that Iran will stop to comply with two provisions, as you said, which cap Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium and heavy water. And so Iran is now going to take steps to go above the limits that have been fixed by the agreement, although it's not clear that it is actually going to start going above the limits quite yet.
SHAPIRO: Why do you think they're doing this now, a year after the U.S. pulled out of the agreement?
TABATABAI: Well, it's precisely because it's been one year, and the Rouhani government - the moderates in Iran - have received a lot of pushback for essentially sitting on their hands for a year while the Trump administration first withdrew and then started to impose sanctions. So domestically, opponents of the deal are saying that, look; Iran is not getting anything out of the deal. The economic benefits that were promised to Iran are not materializing. And so what's the point of unilaterally implementing this deal?
SHAPIRO: Now, the U.S. is not only imposing more sanctions; it's also taking some military action, sending B-52 bombers and an aircraft carrier to the region. On Morning Edition today, the State Department's top policy adviser on Iran, Brian Hook, said the U.S. received several credible threats by Iranian forces and wanted to send a clear message.
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BRIAN HOOK: We obviously are not looking for war with Iran, but we are postured and ready to defend U.S. forces and interests in that region.
SHAPIRO: What do you make of those moves and that explanation of the reasons for them?
TABATABAI: Well, Brian Hook is right that the United States does not want war, and I think the Iranians also don't want war. The challenge, though, is that we don't currently have an off-ramp, official channels of communication that would allow us to de-escalate and to avoid miscalculation that could actually lead to conflict.
SHAPIRO: The U.S. has said it hopes that the economic pressure on Iran will get the country to behave differently in the region and also, perhaps, come to the U.S. asking to renegotiate the nuclear deal with terms that are more favorable to the United States. How likely do either of those goals seem to you?
TABATABAI: Well, frankly, there is no appetite in Iran right now for further negotiations. And I would also add that the administration's stated objectives are very broad. It's not just about renegotiating the nuclear deal, but also Iran's missile program and regional activities. So coming to the table to negotiate such a all-encompassing deal would essentially be a unilateral sort of capitulation from Iran. And that has no support within the system right now.
SHAPIRO: Well, in that case, what do you think the most likely endgame here is?
TABATABAI: Well, I think what Iran is trying to do here is - you know, they don't want to leave the JCPOA. So what they're trying to do is to get the Europeans to try to compensate for the U.S. withdrawal, to try to, you know, be more flexible in its compliance with U.S. sanctions and to afford Iran the economic recovery that it wants. The other thing they're trying to do is try to send a signal domestically that they're flexing muscles, and they're not just sitting by as the Trump administration continues to increase pressure.
SHAPIRO: That's Ariane Tabatabai of the RAND Corporation. Thank you so much for joining us today.
TABATABAI: Thanks for having me, Ari.
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