Quarterly Updates for (16 Feb 2017 — 15 May 2017)

Amid shifting regional dynamics, internal Iranian politics fluctuated throughout the quarter. Iranian pres. Hassan Rouhani was in the final year of his 4-year term, and the upcoming presidential elections were seen as a referendum on his reformist platform, including the 7/14/2015 nuclear deal reached with the P5+1. The new and more hostile U.S. admin. threatened to undermine Rouhani’s achievements and bolster his conservative rivals ahead of the 5/19 election.

At the height of campaign season in Iran, the U.S. imposed (3/24) new sanctions on 11 companies and individuals from China, North Korea, and the UAE for transferring technology to Iran that could allegedly be used to help its missile program. Rouhani responded in kind, imposing sanctions on 15 U.S. companies for alleged human rights violations and for cooperating with Israel, according to Iran’s state news agency IRNA on 3/26. A mo. later, the Trump admin. demonstrated a new willingness to abide by the nuclear deal, rather than undo it immediately, as Trump had promised on the campaign trail in 2016. In a letter addressed to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, U.S. secy. of state Tillerson confirmed (4/18) that Iran was compliant with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). However, Tillerson also expressed the Trump admin.’s concerns about Iran’s alleged sponsorship of terrorism, and indicated that the U.S. pres. had directed an “inter-agency” review of the deal to “evaluate whether suspension of sanctions . . . pursuant to the [deal] is vital to the national security interests of the U.S.” Trump claimed (4/20) that Iran was not adhering to the “spirit” of the deal: “I can tell you that, and we’re analyzing it very, very carefully, and we’ll have something to say about it in the not too distant future.”

As the quarter came to a close, the Trump admin. had nothing more to say about the nuclear deal, and Rouhani was poised to win the presidential race. On 5/15, fellow reformist and chief opponent of Rouhani, Mostafa Hashemitaba, endorsed the Iranian president’s candidacy, pledging to “vote for the current president to help [extend] this govt.’s constructive approach” (IRNA, 5/15).