US President Joe Biden came to power in 2021 pledging to work toward returning the US to an era of diplomacy with Iran, after four years of his predecessor’s campaign of “maximum pressure” produced a period of escalating tensions between the two. Early efforts failed to return the two nations to complying with the 2015 international agreement under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear work in exchange for relief from economic sanctions imposed by countries worried it was trying to develop a nuclear bomb. More recently, the US and Iran have worked quietly to reach understandings on a series of matters, including Iran’s nuclear capabilities, that would lessen strains between the adversaries.
- What’s on the table?
Through intermediaries including Oman and Qatar, Iran and the US are working on a prisoner exchange. And the US has agreed to facilitate South Korea’s transfer of $6 billion in frozen assets back to Iran to be used for medicine and humanitarian goods. Iran is now selling more oil to China than it has in a decade, in part because the US has reduced its focus on sanctions enforcement in an effort to keep oil prices low amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Saudi Arabian efforts to restrict supply. While reviving the 2015 nuclear deal isn’t on the table, there’s talk of limiting Iran’s nuclear enrichment, an important concern for the US.
- What was the ‘maximum pressure’ policy?
Arguing that he could get a better deal, President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the nuclear agreement in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran that had been lifted as part of it. In May 2019, the US stepped up the pressure by letting waivers expire that had permitted eight governments to buy Iranian oil. As with other sanctions campaigns, …