AIC Statement on Escalating Tensions Between the United States and Iran

The American Iranian Council is deeply concerned about the recent outbreak of violence in the Gulf of Oman and state of escalating tensions in the region.  Although relations between the United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Iran have been poor since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the current situation is among the worst AIC has seen since we began our work twenty-six years ago, and risks breaking out into a fully armed regional conflict.  

The Council urges both the U.S. and Iran to contemplate the policies they have enacted that have led to this dangerous crossroads, and also to consider the deep responsibility they bear to their citizens and the world in ensuring that a peaceful off-ramp for the current tensions be secured.

Last year, the AIC expressed grave concern about the United States’ decision to withdraw from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) without evidence of Iranian non-compliance and/or the support of other signatories.  At the time, we labeled this decision not just provocative but potentially militaristic and moreover, inconsistent with the values of moral leadership and the rule of law that America has long championed.  In the Council’s view this withdrawal was the most significant action leading to the current tensions. Other, more recent moves Washington has made against Tehran, including designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist group and the deployment of additional U.S. military equipment and personnel to the Middle East without the support of its allies and to the alarm of many in Congress, have only further stoked tensions while accomplishing little to change Iran’s regional activities.  

Iran of course also bears responsibility in arriving at this dangerous crossroads.  While the country initially exercised some restraint after the U.S. left the JCPOA by maintaining its commitments to the deal, Iran has more recently indicated that it plans to partially withdraw from the deal and has threatened to resume uranium enrichment.  It continues to pursue its ballistic missile program and its militias engage in controversial and concerning military adventurism throughout the region.  Furthermore, its leaders’ increasingly belligerent anti-American rhetoric, their objection to negotiations with the U.S., or even with intermediaries such as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, serve no benefit and only draw Iran closer to conflict.

The recent tanker explosions in the Gulf of Oman are deeply worrying.  Although the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was quick to place the blame on Iran (which, for its part called the explosions “suspicious”), there is good reason for all parties to take a deliberate step back, cease their heated rhetoric and take the time and effort to be precise and complete in their intelligence-gathering before jumping to conclusions or engaging in retaliatory action.  It is worth noting that third-party actors in the region may have an interest in carrying out false flag operations to cause military conflict between the US and Iran.  Such parties may also believe that their time to incite such conflict is limited (before the US election season, and while the Trump administration – with its hardline approach to Iran - is still in power).  Finally, and more simply however: caution is recommended by history.  Leaders in both Washington and Tehran should recognize that they have nothing to gain from war.  The U.S.’ recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost the lives of some 7,000 American service members, while Iran’s last major war, against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, resulted in an estimated 1 million Iranian deaths. Moreover, both wars demonstrated the great difficulty of achieving stated objectives as a result of armed conflict.  

Until the recent tanker explosions, there were a few positive steps towards peaceful resolution of current tensions, which AIC applauds.  President Trump, for example, has repeatedly called upon Iran to negotiate a new deal with his administration and contradicted his more hawkish advisors like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton by stating that it is not United States policy to seek regime change in Iran. While for his part, President Rouhani has stated that Iran would speak with the U.S. if sanctions were lifted, this precondition is clearly a non-starter for the U.S.

AIC calls on both countries to immediately cease their aggressive and escalating rhetoric, to undertake a measured and diligent investigation of the intelligence surrounding the recent tanker attacks, and most importantly to begin candid dialogue and good-faith negotiations without preconditions, to reduce the current tensions.  There are numerous matters for negotiation that could result in a grand deal, including not only the nuclear issues covered by the JCPOA, but also (i) ballistic missile testing, (ii) the possibility of normalization of relations, (iii) removal of the travel ban for Iranians coming to the U.S., (iv) sanctions relief & trade, (v) regional military engagement and (vi) coordinated efforts on matters of joint regional importance including combating the Islamic State and other terror groups, as well as the ‘Golden Crescent’ opium traffic.  Although such a grand deal would be welcomed, in the current climate peaceful diplomatic engagement would be a meaningful first step.  In the meantime, AIC urges all countries to tread carefully, consider their actions and reactions, and take all steps necessary for the promotion of peace.