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How Iran Could Beat Trump at His Own Game

Iranians have good reason to be angry about Donald Trump’s decision to violate the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Iran nuclear deal. After all, Iran has kept to its obligations; thanks to Trump, the United States has not.

Trump’s speech was venomous, vindictive not factual, and it was also clear that the real source of his hatred is not Iran, but Barack Obama. So, while Tehran’s anger is justified, that is rarely a good basis for action. At this stage, Iran would do well to think strategically before fashioning a response.Iran entered in the JCPOA—which involved commitments beyond those required by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty—for two main reasons. First, to gain relief from crippling economic sanctions and, second, to end its international isolation. Both goals are still achievable and, with the right strategy, Iran may end up in a stronger position internationally than at any time since the creation of the Islamic Republic.

The United States is not a significant source of trade or investment for Iran. Being unable to sell or buy directly from the United States will not have a big impact on the Iranian economy. The problem for Iran is the so-called secondary sanctions—the inability of non-American companies to access the American market or use the U.S. banking system if they do business with Iran.But, secondary sanctions are a game that two can play. The European Union collectively has an economy larger than that of the United States. China, also a party to the JCPOA, is the world’s second largest economy. If the United States can use secondary sanctions on European and Chinese businesses to promote its foreign policy objective of hurting Iran, the Europeans and Chinese can retaliate with secondary sanctions aimed at preserving the agreement.

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