NIAC Statement on Trump’s Tweet Threat to “End” Iran

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Sunday, May 19, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

Washington, D.C. – Today, President Trump threatened to “end” Iran in a tweet on the heels of reports that rockets landed near the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad.

In response, President of the National Iranian American Council, Jamal Abdi, issued the following statement:

“President Trump’s saber-rattling about Iran has reached a dangerous new low with his threat to “end” Iran—a country of 83 million men, women, and children. Since the President reneged on the Iran nuclear deal last year, the administration’s policies have been geared towards provoking Iran into retaliation to give cover for a perilous escalation favored by administration hawks. There is no doubt that National Security Advisor John Bolton will use the slightest Iranian action—even bereft of reliable intelligence—as a pretext to push for the war he’s always wanted.

“Trump’s belligerent threat to destroy Iran comes on the heels of reports that a “low-grade” rocket landed in an empty lot near the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad. Last September, a similar incident led to Bolton asking the Pentagon for options to militarily strike Iran. At the time, then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis shot down Bolton’s plans. With Mattis gone today, Bolton is well positioned to push Trump and the U.S. into a conflict that would be catastrophic for U.S. interests and regional and global stability.

“The fact is that the United States and the world should not be in this position where a war with Iran is even a possibility. America’s traditional allies in Europe, as well as the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence, have repeatedly warned that the administration’s actions are leading to a dangerous tit-for-tat with Iran. Simply stated, the current state of heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran is exclusively due to the policies of the Trump administration, which abandoned a nonproliferation agreement that was working in favor of a so-called “maximum pressure campaign.”

“President Trump has claimed that he doesn’t want war, but his bombastic rhetoric is ensuring that he walks into one. Threats of destruction, a la “fire and fury,” will not get him a deal with Iran, just as they haven’t with North Korea. Instead, if Trump is sincere about wanting diplomatic compromise, he should cease his policy of economic warfare that is strangling the Iranian people and pursue a tone of mutual respect with Tehran. Foremost, this would require him to fire John Bolton, who has made clear he opposes U.S.-Iran diplomacy in principle.”

NIAC Statement on Reports that Iran Will Halt Compliance with Aspects of Nuclear Deal

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, May 6, 2019 
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

In response to reports that Iran will halt its compliance with aspects of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or Iran nuclear deal, Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), released the following statement:

“We call on all parties to fully uphold their commitments under the nuclear accord and condemn any and all violations of this agreement that is so important to preventing war and the spread of nuclear weapons. Iran’s potential move risks playing into a dangerous tit for tat that leads to military confrontation. Despite the deterioration of the accord, the window for diplomacy can be reopened if all parties forgo escalation, uphold their commitments under the JCPOA, and seek equitable compromise.  

“These forthcoming steps do not occur in a vacuum. Donald Trump, spurred on by John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, has been trying for months to shatter the nuclear deal. Now, he will own the consequences of Iran resuming aspects of its nuclear program that should be barred by the successful agreement that he inherited.

“Members of the Trump administration appear to be repeating the George W. Bush administration’s playbook for war with Iraqtying Iran to al-Qaeda, baselessly stating that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, and politicizing intelligence assessments on Iran. Bolton has gone into overdrive in recent weeks to spur Iranian retaliation to justify his reckless aggressionincluding using the routine deployment of an aircraft carrier group to the Persian Gulf to threaten “unrelenting force” against Iran.

“It is imperative that sober policymakers and commentators keep Iran’s actions in perspective, examine hyperbolic rhetoric with a critical eye, and remain cognizant of the consequences of further escalation.

“Meanwhile, the Iranian people are the primary victims of the Trump administration’s diplomatic sabotage. The reimposition of sanctions and unprecedented steps on oil exports are directly harming the Iranian people, who are now squeezed in a vice of oppressive sanctions and state repression under a growing threat of war.

“The choice to the U.S. is clear: return Iran to compliance with the nuclear deal by resuming sanctions-lifting obligations, or follow Trump and Bolton’s disastrous path to war. We hope all policymakers and 2020 candidates make clear that returning to the JCPOA is the only responsible choice.”

Senator Paul Tells Pompeo: No Authorization for an Iran War

“I can tell you explicitly, you have not been given power or authority by Congress to have war with Iran, and in any kind of semblance of a sane world, you would have to come back and ask us before you go into Iran,” Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) declared to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing this week.

The hearing came two days after the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by Pompeo’s State Department, in a move that many saw as laying the groundwork for war. Concerningly, Secretary Pompeo refused to rule out using the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) – which authorized war against “those nations, organizations, or persons [the President] determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons” – to justify launching a war against Iran.

In response to Paul’s direct questioning on whether or not the 2001 AUMF could be applied to Iran or the IRGC, Pompeo replied “I would prefer to leave that to the lawyers, Senator.” Pompeo, continuing a long line of suspect statements on the subject, also alleged that “there’s no doubt there is a connection between the Islamic Republic of Iran and al Qaeda.” Contrary to Pompeo’s repeated statements, experts have regularly depicted an antagonistic and hostile relationship between Iran and al-Qaeda.

Nelly Fahloud, an expert who examined classified documents that Pompeo released to the hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracies when he was CIA Director to bolster claims of an Al Qaeda-Iran link, wrote that “in none of these documents did I find references pointing to collaboration between al-Qaeda and Iran to carry out terrorism.” However, a lack of evidence did not stop the George W. Bush administration from fabricating ties between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda to make the case for war.

While the notion that the 2001 AUMF could legally justify strikes against Iran has also been disputed by legal scholars, the Executive Branch has utilized the 2001 AUMF in at least 41 different military operations and 19 different countries, including in Syria, Yemen and Libya. Moreover, it appears that the Trump administration does not believe it faces many legal restrictions on its ability to start a war without Congressional authorization.

This administration’s actions all point to a desire for confrontation with Iran. In September 2018, National Security Advisor John Bolton is reported to have requested war plans from the Pentagon to strike an Iranian military facility in response to alleged activities from Shia militias in Iraq. Moreover, a Washington Times article published earlier this year indicated that Trump administration officials believe the 2001 AUMF provides them with the legal authority to attack Iran.

Legislation has been introduced to end the 2001 AUMF – sponsored by Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) – which NIAC and 41 other groups have supported. Additionally, Senators Tom Udall, Rand Paul and Richard Durbin recently reintroduced the Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act, which “would restrict any funds from being spent on an unconstitutional attack against Iran.”

Given that the administration refuses to rule out that it has authorization for an Iran war, these legislative efforts may be as relevant as ever in deciding whether the U.S. engages in a new military adventure in the Middle East.

The Story Of Esther And Netanyahu’s Attack On Iranian History

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently declared that he believes it is “possible” that President Trump was sent by God to protect the Jewish people from Iranians. Pompeo’s remarks came during an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, after he was asked if “President Trump right now has been sort of raised for such a time as this, just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from an Iranian menace.” In likening Trump to Esther, Pompeo added that he was “confident that the Lord is at work here.”

Aside from the preposterous notion that President Trump enjoys divine support, Pompeo’s remarks distort the story of Esther and demonize the Iranian people and their history. Nor is Pompeo’s framing of this Biblical story new. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long twisted the Old Testament’s book of Esther to advance a hawkish agenda on Iran. Such rhetoric from Pompeo and Netanyahu is demagogic hyperbole at best and dangerous incitement against the Iranian people at worst.

Esther denouncing Haman (Ernest Normand)

Importantly, Pompeo’s comments occur in the context of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, marked by a unilateral withdrawal from the July 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the imposition of draconian U.S. sanctions that are impoverishing ordinary Iranians, and senior Trump officials exploring options to launch U.S. military strikes.

Click here to continue reading this article on LobeLog.

NIAC Statement on Politically Motivated Sentencing of Prominent Human Rights Lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh

NIAC is deeply concerned by reports that prominent Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh reportedly faces up to a 38-year prison sentence and 148 lashes on fabricated, politically motivated charges. NIAC unequivocally condemns the Iranian government for its arbitrary and politically motivated detentions in contravention of Iran’s human rights obligations, and reiterates its call for the immediate and unconditional release of Sotoudeh, along with all prisoners of conscience.

Sotoudeh has for years defended those who have suffered rights abuses at the hands of the Iranian government. From her defense of Iran’s 2009 Green Movement protestors to her support for the anti-compulsory hijab activists of last spring, Sotoudeh remains one of Iran’s staunchest human rights advocates. Sotoudeh was released in September 2013—in what was widely seen as a good will gesture ahead of President Hassan Rouhani’s first trip to the UN General Assembly—after more than two years of imprisonment on politically motivated charges following her work highlighting juvenile executions in Iran and her defense of human and civil rights protestors.

News of Sotoudeh’s sentencing comes only days ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8th—and serves as a stark reminder of the restrictions and costs Iranian women continue to pay in their fight against compulsory hijab and systemic gender inequality. Since her arrest last June for representing three activists protesting compulsory hijab, Sotoudeh has endured two hunger strikes and refused to participate in her trial after being prevented from selecting her own lawyer. Her husband, fellow imprisoned human rights activist Reza Khandan, noted that she is being prosecuted on seven charges, most of which relate to her opposition to Iran’s compulsory hijab laws.

While the fault for Sotoudeh’s incarceration lies squarely with Iranian authorities, U.S. policymakers must carefully weigh the impact of pressure policies on empowering Tehran’s most reactionary forces and reducing our ability to hold Iran accountable to its human rights obligations. The Trump administration’s abrogation of the nuclear deal, imposition of inhumane sanctions, and ratcheting up of tensions with Iran has further emboldened Iran’s hardline forces that are not accountable to elected institutions. As hardliners seek to match Trump’s bellicosity and undermine moderates and the will of the Iranian people, human rights proponents like Sotoudeh often become the first victims.

Former Officials Defend the JCPOA at Washington Forums

“Once we have the nuclear deal reestablished, the next topic is to try to understand how you could have a security architecture in which Saudi Arabia, the Gulf’s, Iran’s, other interests can be accommodated,” observed Rob Malley – President of the International Crisis Group and a former White House advisor on the Middle East under President Obama – at the Wilson Center last Tuesday. Malley is among several former U.S. officials who have warned that President Trump undermined U.S. diplomacy by withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), but that if the deal was salvaged, it could serve as a paradigm for a future administration to resolve other crises. While such a framework would take a long time, Malley indicated that Israeli-Iranian relations could be the next thorny challenge to tackle.

Similarly, testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Wednesday, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stated that President Trump had “put himself in a box” with his decision on the JCPOA because, she said, the JCPOA is a “good blueprint” for a nuclear agreement with North Korea. Albright warned that President Trump’s abrogation of the JCPOA has “undermined our relations with other members of the P5+1” in terms of their ability to trust the U.S. on future agreements. She added that the withdrawal has further hurt U.S. credibility with respect to the Venezuelan and North Korean crises, stating “It’s undermining our policy, so it’s important to call that out.”

Malley emphasized the narrow focus of the diplomatic process that produced the JCPOA, a rare diplomatic success story in America’s troubled 40-year long relationship with the Islamic Republic, and argued that the U.S. needed to return to compliance. “I think the better way forward is to rejoin the nuclear deal, that’s a subject for maybe the next administration, and to use that model – without any illusions, without any naivete about how quickly relations are going to change – but understanding that Iran does have a place in the region that people are going to have to take into account.”

“Both Republican and Democratic Presidents, the last seven … have operated in a mix of coercion and engagement and both have failed, a clear case of bipartisan failure,” said Malley. “The one agreement that could have sustainably changed Iranian behavior on one issue … is the JCPOA, the Iran-U.S. nuclear deal.”

The JCPOA’s importance was also echoed in hearings at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday. Former Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns testified that, if the Trump administration were to get a JCPOA-like deal with North Korea, it would be a “significant tangible step forward.” Burns added, “something like” the Iran deal with North Korea would be a “first step in dealing with North Korea, setting aside the irony of this, given the admin’s view of the Iranian nuclear agreement.”

In the House, Albright rebuked the Trump administration’s “lack of diplomacy” on foreign policy and cited President Trump’s decisions on Iran’s nuclear program, the INF Treaty and climate change as “mistakes.” Albright expressed support for the JCPOA, stating that she “supported the deal” because it dealt with the “most serious aspect of Iran’s behavior” in terms of its “capability” to develop nuclear weapons.

Albright made a final rebuke to the administration’s reneging on the Iran deal towards the end of her remarks, declaring: “Negotiations are negotiations, people make compromises and if you walk away from them, why would they trust you on the next one.”

State Department Responds to Congressional Sanctions Concerns

Washington, D.C. – Last December, NIAC worked with Rep. Jared Huffman and a group of 13 lawmakers who sent a letter to the the State Department regarding the dire humanitarian impact of U.S. sanctions on the Iranian people. On February 15, the State Department sent its response to the lawmakers. Rep. Huffman’s letter requested responses on the following questions:

  1. Is it a deliberate strategy of the Trump administration to starve the Iranian people or deprive them of basic medicines? If not, what substantive steps has the administration taken to ensure the Iranian people have continued access to life-saving medicines?
  2. Which foreign nations have expressed concern about the humanitarian impact of U.S. sanctions on Iran, and what have they asked the administration to do to ensure the free flow of humanitarian goods to Iran?
  3. According to a report in The Guardian, the United Kingdom, France and Germany have pushed both the State and Treasury Departments to produce a “white list” that would “give clear guidelines about what channels European banks and companies should follow to conduct legitimate transactions with Iran without fear of future penalties.” Has the State or Treasury Departments acted upon this proposal to establish a white channel to ensure the flow of humanitarian goods? If not, why not?
  4. What additional measures have been contemplated to ensure the free flow of humanitarian goods to the Iranian people? If these were rejected, why were they rejected?
  5. Are broader license authorizations or exemptions necessary to ensure the flow of humanitarian goods to Iran? If not, what is the evidence for this assessment?

Unfortunately, the State Department failed to directly address these questions or acknowledge accountability for the humanitarian impacts of sanctions on ordinary Iranians. The response sidestepped any responsibility to uphold U.S. legal obligations to ensure essential goods, like food and medicine, are not blocked by sanctions. Yet, this is not the position of key U.S. allies in Europe, as the Huffman letter articulated.

As French ambassador to the U.S. Gerard Araud stated in November 2018: “The fact is the banks are so terrified of sanctions that they don’t want to do anything with Iran. It means that in a few months, there is a strong risk that there will be shortage of medicine in Iran if we don’t do something positive.”

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Negative Effects of Unilateral Coercive Measures has also warned that the administration’s reimposed sanctions “are destroying the economy and currency of Iran, driving millions of people into poverty, and making imported goods unaffordable.” Such concerns have led the European Union and Switzerland to create separate independent financial channels to facilitate humanitarian trade with Iran.

The administration’s failure to take these issues to heart is deeply concerning, as it appears to rule out steps that could alleviate the impact of sanctions on the same Iranian citizenry that the administration professes to support.

NIAC greatly appreciates Rep. Huffman and the lawmakers with whom he worked to spotlight this critical issue and for his efforts to hold the administration accountable to its humanitarian obligations. We will continue to work with its allies to shine a light on the impact of broad sanctions on the Iranian people and push the administration on its failure to properly facilitate humanitarian exemptions to U.S. sanctions.

The full text of the State Department’s response is below and Rep. Huffman’s original letter can be read here.

State Department Response to Congressional Sanctions Concerns

The Slender Path Back to the Iran Nuke Deal — and Away from War

The past 40 years in U.S.-Iran relations have been riddled with missed opportunities. While the Iranians and Clinton administration failed to initiate serious dialogue after Mohammad Khatami’s election, the George W. Bush administration pocketed Tehran’s assistance after the U.S.invasion of Afghanistan, put the country in its “axis of evil,” and ignored its offer for a grand bargain. Under the Trump administration, however, we are likely witnessing the greatest missed opportunity in four decades: a failure to capitalize on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, aka the Iran nuclear deal. 

The drama over the resignation of Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif — though it was rejected and withdrawn — underscores how the Trump administration’s imposition of sanctions has undermined moderates and bolstered hardliners. With the Trump administration seeking to collapse the nuclear deal and apparently searching for a casus belli, Tehran has less need of a chief diplomat distinguished by his engagement with the United States. This hardening posture in Iran plays into the hands of hawks on all sides bent on slamming shut the window for negotiations and opening the door to direct confrontation.

Yet there remains a slender path back to the JCPOA and away from war. U.S. policymakers outside the administration — there is little hope about those within it — must speak up about the need to return to the nuclear deal upon Trump’s departure from the White House.

Fortunately, momentum is building to return the United States to compliance with the deal. Most notably, the Democratic National Committee has adopted a resolution calling on the United States to re-enter the JCPOA, effectively prioritizing U.S.-Iran diplomacy as the party shapes its platform ahead of the 2020 elections. Already, several presidential hopefuls have signaled interest in salvaging the deal. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has indicated that she would support returning to the JCPOA if Iran continues to abide by its terms, while Sen. Amy Klobuchar has warned that the United States.can’t balk on the agreement.

Read the rest of this article on Defense One. 

The Lasting Lessons Of The Iranian Revolution

February 11 marks the fortieth anniversary of the 1979 revolution in Iran, which toppled the country’s monarchical system and ushered in the Islamic Republic. The outcomes of that fateful day continue to shape the discourse on Iran and are particularly pertinent in today’s political climate. With a U.S. administration taking an increasing hard line toward the Islamic Republic and even calls from Washington for a new revolution, it is imperative to understand the lessons of 1979 rather than let them fall into the forgotten annals of history.

In contrast to contemporary narratives that make the revolution seem like a spontaneous occurrence or strip the agency of the people that participated, the Iranian revolution of 1979 was decades in the making. Before 1979, the Iranian people were avid participants in their country’s progress. Their calls for greater self-determination stretch back to the 1906 Constitutional Revolution and characterized the proliferation of political activism in the 1940s, the democratic movement in the 1950s to nationalize Iranian resources, and the various political factions that resisted the Shah in the 1960s and 1970s. This dedication to political engagement and struggle for liberty continues to this day inside Iran.

Though groups outside of Iran often distort the history of the revolution, the wealth of scholarship on the uprising is revealing. In the global atmosphere of anti-colonial resistance and national liberation movements that colored the second half of the twentieth century, Iranians staked their claim to the same ideas of democracy and independence that had long been ideologically espoused in the United States. Viewed by many as a foreign puppet, the shah was censured for his detachment from the Iranian populace and his partiality for imported, Western culture. Understood in this light, the revolution became analogous to a call for independence from foreigners. This was precisely the rhetoric that Ayatollah Khomeini capitalized on in order to establish his own legitimacy.

Read the full article at LobeLog >>

NIAC Statement on Bolton Seeking War with Iran

Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement on reports that John Bolton asked the Pentagon for options to attack Iran in September, rattling officials:

“John Bolton and fellow Iran hawks believe they have two years left to collapse the Iran nuclear deal and trigger a disastrous war that the American people want no part of. We know that Bolton and other administration officials preferred an Iran war to negotiations prior to serving Trump. Now there is confirmation that they are still seeking out opportunities to fulfill their war agenda.

“This administration takes an expansive view of war authorities and is leaning into confrontation with Iran at a time when there are numerous tripwires for conflict across the region. It is imperative that this Congress investigate Bolton’s request for war options and pass legislation placing additional legal and political constraints on the administration’s ability to start a new war of choice with Iran that could haunt America and the region for generations.”

Expert Reacts to Sec. Pompeo’s Speech in Cairo on America’s Middle East Policies

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, January 10, 2019
CONTACT: Yasmina Dardari | yasmina@unbendablemedia.com

Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement after Secretary Pompeo’s speech in Cairo on America’s Middle East policies:

“Secretary Pompeo’s speech failed to outline a coherent strategic logic for the Trump administration’s Middle East policy. If Secretary Pompeo wants regional stability, human rights, and an end to U.S. military adventures and endless wars, he would press his boss to return to the Iran deal, pursue and facilitate good-faith diplomacy among all stakeholders, and honor our international agreements.

“Iran’s government engages in the unconscionable repression of its people and violates its international human rights commitments. Unfortunately, legitimate criticism of the Iranian government’s abuses and support for the Iranian people are undermined by this administration’s hypocrisy – from failing to uphold its own international commitments under the nuclear deal, to shielding the Saudi government from accountability for its killing of Jamal Khashoggi, to banning and sanctioning ordinary Iranians.

“A prudent alternative U.S. policy to the region must be predicated on using diplomacy as the preferred method of advancing U.S. interests, acting consistently on human rights, and ceasing our blank-check support for regional autocrats. A diplomacy-driven U.S. Middle East policy would not turn its back on regional people suffering under the yoke of strongmen or monarchs and would build on the successful diplomatic playbook of the Iran nuclear deal.

“If the administration continues on its current path of reflexively backing despotic regional regimes, simplistically blaming Iran as the source of all regional ills, and jeopardizing U.S. relations with European states seeking to preserve the nuclear accord, it will succeed at little other than fueling instability.”

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The National Iranian American Council (www.niacouncil.org) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening the voice of Iranian Americans and promoting greater understanding between the American and Iranian people. We accomplish our mission through expert research and analysis, civic and policy education, and community building.

How Iran and Pakistan Matter for a Post-US Withdrawal Afghan Landscape

Image Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Sharida Jackson

Strained relations with Pakistan and zero channels of communication with Iran isolate U.S. foreign policy ahead of negotiations with the Taliban and an imminent U.S. troop drawdown. Washington’s newfound acceptance of the Taliban as one of many stakeholders in a political settlement must be matched by a recognition that landlocked Afghanistan will rely on relations with its neighbors after a U.S. departure.

Four conditions arose soon after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan that set the stage for a potential political settlement to the conflict. First, a robust U.S. bombing campaign routed the Taliban out of major Afghan cities including Kabul and Jalalabad. Second, U.S. special operations coupled with the bombing campaign killed or captured many transnational terrorists using the country as refuge. Others were pushed southward where Pakistani intelligence focused on terrorists from outside the region but largely ignored the Taliban. Third, Iran offered its assistance to the U.S. under the leadership of President Khatami and with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s blessing. Lastly, Pakistan’s General Pervez Musharraf and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) appeared ready to facilitate a political solution that would offer the Taliban an ultimatum: participate politically in the new Afghanistan to survive or resist and be killed.

Tehran was content to see the Taliban government fall and tolerated a limited International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) presence along its border. Iran provided intelligence to the U.S. and leveraged its cultural ties with Afghanistan’s Dari-speaking population to help win their support for the presidency of Hamid Karzai. Iran also influenced the Bonn Agreement which produced an interim government exclusive of the Taliban that resulted from talks between key anti-Taliban stakeholders. It was the diplomatic intervention of Iran that convinced the Northern Alliance to accede to sharing enough ministries with other factions to facilitate cooperation. According to Alex Vatanka, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was popular “across the political spectrum in Iran” and “only a tiny minority of voices in Tehran bothered to raise the question of a lasting US military presence in Afghanistan, although this issue subsequently became a key concern for Iran.” President Bush’s inclusion of Iran in his 2002 “Axis of Evil” speech torpedoed this effort by emboldening hardliners which led in part to the 2005 election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran’s threat perception shifted to view the Taliban as a counterweight to the U.S.

During this same period, Washington became reliant on Pakistan as both a supply route and partner in the Afghanistan conflict. In 2004, Secretary of State Colin Powell conferred the status of major non-NATO ally on Pakistan and offered a $1.5 billion dollar military assistance package. According to a report by the Watson Institute at Brown University, approximately 8,832 Pakistani security personnel and 23,372 non-combatant civilians have been killed in the War on Terror. For perspective, the U.S. Department of Defense has reported 2,276 U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan and the Watson Institute report calculated 6,951 total U.S. deaths in the War on Terror including Iraq and other locations.

Diplomatic coercion began to define U.S.-Pakistan relations as high casualties turned Pakistan’s public against the war. Osama bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALs in Abbottabad, Pakistan in 2011. Washington’s primary criticism of Pakistan is its periodic support of the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network even while it confronts other militant groups. The overall attitude of Pakistan’s military toward the Taliban is one of disdain; however, some within Pakistan’s security establishment predict a Taliban resurgence after a U.S. departure and view Islamist extremism as less of an ideological threat than Pashtun nationalism. They also worry about a strong Indian presence in Kabul. The U.S. adopted a strategy of triadic coercion in response to Islamabad’s inconsistent cooperation in which it uses diplomatic threats and withholds aid to compel Pakistan to abandon support for certain militant groups. However, this strategy failed to radically alter Islamabad’s calculation inside Afghanistan even though the Pakistan Army dealt a successful blow to the Pakistani Taliban.

Lack of diplomatic relations between Tehran and Washington also proved a financial boon for the Taliban. At times, Tehran supported the group to harass U.S. troops and as a retaliation for Washington’s alleged support of Baloch separatist movements. In 2012, the U.S. Treasury Department designated an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) chief in the border city of Zahedan as a Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker of opium which helps fund the Taliban and accounts for 67 percent of narcotics consumption in Iran. A 249-page counternarcotics report published in 2018 by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) only mentions Iran five times despite the country’s key role as a transit route for Afghan opium. It concluded that despite $8.62 billion spent, no counternarcotics program “resulted in lasting reductions in poppy cultivation or opium production” and production rose from 3,400 metric tons to 9,000 metric tons. Many factors contributed to this loss but Washington’s failure to integrate Iran into its counternarcotics effort and incentivize cooperation certainly contributed.

Neither exclusion of Iran nor a coercive stance toward Pakistan has improved the situation in Afghanistan. Instead, the Taliban managed to maintain some relations with Pakistan and develop new ones with Iran and Russia. The most recent example is the announcement by Iranian state media that Tehran is hosting direct talks with the Taliban. In their book, Triple Axis: Iran’s Relations with Russia and China, Dina Esfandiary and Ariane Tabatabai note that “although both Tehran and Moscow view the Taliban as a threat, they see the groups as the ‘lesser of two evils’ when weighed against [Islamic State Khorasan Province] ISKP, whose ideology, brutality, and recruitment efforts pose a greater threat to the two nations. Hence, Iran and Russia have provided support to Taliban groups since ISKP began to make gains in Afghanistan following the rise of ISIS in Iraq.” It comes down to a lack of confidence that the Taliban can be defeated militarily coupled with apprehension over the alternatives. Ultimately, Russia, Iran, and Pakistan have little ability to control the Taliban but their cooperation with an inclusive political settlement does have the potential to strengthen the Afghan state.

The Trump administration appears eager to reach a political settlement and leave Afghanistan. “I said that if the menace of terrorism is tackled, the United States is not looking for a permanent military presence in Afghanistan,” U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad reportedly told the Taliban delegation during recent talks. This approach is not a creation of the Trump administration. Speaking recently in Islamabad, former director for South Asian affairs at the Obama administration’s National Security Council, Joshua White, reiterated that the original justification for entering Afghanistan was to prevent a safe haven for transnational terrorists that more closely resemble Al-Qaeda and ISIS than the Taliban. According to former Adviser to the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP), Barnett Rubin, “when [Secretary of Defense] Rumsfeld vetoed the agreement that Karzai made with the Taliban leadership on December 6, 2001, it’s not because he had a different strategy for achieving peace in Afghanistan, it’s because achieving peace in Afghanistan was not the reason the U.S. went into Afghanistan. It was to punish the terrorists and those who harbored them.”

If Trump’s intention is to leave Afghanistan, then Kabul will be pushed to diversify and strengthen its regional relationships regardless of Washington’s other initiatives. For example, the importance to Afghanistan’s stability of India’s $21 billion project to develop Iran’s Chabahar port  forced the Trump administration to grant a sanctions waiver despite its departure from the Iran nuclear deal. According to a Rand report, bilateral trade between Iran and Afghanistan amounted to almost $5 billion in 2013 and Iran was India’s third largest oil supplier in 2017. In Pakistan, the army has made great strides in securing its border and reducing terrorism within its own territory. However, full cooperation from Tehran and Islamabad will require a durable political settlement that presents some immediate benefits to all regional actors.

The Bush administration simultaneously alienated Iran as a potential anti-Taliban ally and rejected offers from Pakistan to facilitate a political solution with Taliban elements that may have been willing to function within the parameters of the new Afghan state. The Obama administration unsuccessfully attempted to overcome the mistakes of its predecessor with a troop surge. Recreating the missed opportunities of 2001-02 nearly two decades later will require the Trump administration to decouple Afghan negotiations from its other regional objectives, prioritize the long-term interests of the Afghan people, and resist the temptation to view influence in Afghanistan as a zero-sum game when stability requires the cooperation of multiple actors, including Iran, Pakistan, India, and Russia.

This post originally appeared on The Diplomat.