Amid Ratcheting Tensions, Iran Doesn’t Know What Trump Really Wants

Amid Ratcheting Tensions, Iran Doesn’t Know What Trump Really Wants
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, right, listens to Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri during an army parade just outside Tehran, Iran, April 18, 2019 (Office of the Iranian Presidency photo via AP Images).

Exactly one year after the Trump administration pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, tensions between Washington and Tehran are escalating sharply amid confusion about what, exactly, the U.S. sees as its end goal. For Iran, uncertainty about what President Donald Trump wants to achieve and what he is prepared to do to get there presents a menu of risky choices.

On Wednesday, Iran announced it was withdrawing from parts of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, the initially seven-nation agreement struck in 2015 curbing Iran’s nuclear program that was central to former President Barack Obama’s foreign policy. Starting this week, President Hassan Rouhani said, Iran would start holding on to its enriched uranium and heavy water instead of exporting it, as the JCPOA requires.

The move was a response to the steady ratcheting up of pressure by Washington. Just days earlier, Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, said the U.S. was sending an aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, its strike group and a bomber task force to the Persian Gulf, with the explicit purpose of warning Iran against possible threats to American forces in the region. Bolton said the U.S. was “not seeking war,” but would respond to any Iranian attack on U.S. interests “with unrelenting force.”

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