Stories by Barbara Slavin

Expert Voices

Trump administration's hostile rhetoric undercuts its Iran strategy

President Donald Trump addresses the 73rd United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly on September 25, 2018
President Trump addresses the 73rd UN General Assembly on September 25, 2018, in New York City. Photo: Spencer Platt via Getty Images

Among the many targets of the Trump administration’s ire this week at the UN, Iran stood out. “We cannot allow the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism to possess the planet’s most dangerous weapons,” Trump told the General Assembly on Tuesday. On Wednesday, he reiterated, “a regime of this track record must never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon.”

The big picture: The Trump administration is angry that most of the world — including key allies Britain, France and Germany — have rejected its withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal and are attempting to circumvent sanctions on Iran. But overemphasizing the challenge Iran poses only further undercuts U.S. credibility and makes it easier for other nations, such as China, to actively oppose U.S. policy.

Expert Voices

Without waivers, U.S. sanctions on Iran will cripple Iraq

Iraqis with tape on their mouths attend a protest in the southern city of Basra on August 24, 2018.
Iraqis attend a protest on August 24, 2018, in the southern city of Basra, which has suffered power outages. Photo: Haidar Mohammed Ali/AFP via Getty Images

Iraqi officials, struggling to form a new government months after May parliamentary elections, now have an even more pressing concern: persuading the Trump administration to waive sanctions that could deprive Iraq of 40% of its electricity. Due to go into effect November 5, the sanctions will exclude from the U.S. market foreign companies that buy Iranian oil, natural gas and petrochemicals. Bound by a “take-or-pay” contract with Iran, Iraq must pay $3 million a year for Iranian natural gas regardless of whether it's received.

Why it matters: For Iraq, which did $12 billion in trade with Iran last year, the impact would be particularly dire. In addition to losing natural gas supplies that account for 6,000 megawatts of electricity, Iraq could face potentially huge penalties if its neighbor takes it to arbitration for violating this contract. Just a month ago, the second-largest city in Iraq, Basra, exploded in riots in part because of electrical blackouts. Just imagine how much violence and disruption could occur if those blackouts were nationwide.

Expert Voices

Renewed sanctions will hurt Iran's economy, but U.S. benefits uncertain

A man takes a glance at a newspaper with a picture of US president Donald Trump on the front page, in the capital Tehran on July 31, 2018.
A newspaper in Tehran on July 31, 2018. Iran's currency lost nearly two-thirds of its value since the start of the year as U.S. sanctions loomed. Photo: Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images

On Tuesday, the first tranche of U.S. sanctions against Iran lifted by the 2015 nuclear deal will snap back into place — a result of President Trump's withdrawal from the deal that comes in spite of Iran’s continued compliance. The re-imposed penalties will restrict foreign investment in Iran’s automotive sector and Iran’s purchases of dollars and precious metals.

The big picture: The Trump administration hopes the sanctions will curb Iran’s "malign" activities in the Middle East, but there's little likelihood of that result, especially since Assad has “won” in Syria, and Iran’s regional rival, Saudi Arabia, remains bogged down in Yemen. Although widespread protests have erupted in Iran since late last year, there are no assurances that Iranians will overthrow their government and replace it with one more attractive to Washington and its allies.