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Can Iran Outlast Trump?

Rather than attempting to beat Iran into submission with escalating economic sanctions, the international community should be attempting to guide it toward greater openness. Such an approach would improve the prospects of successful negotiations with the West, both before and after the 2020 US presidential election.

BLACKSBURG, VIRGINIA – Since President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear agreement in May 2018 and re-imposed sanctions, Iran’s economic output has dropped significantly. Though economic collapse is not imminent, time is not on Iran’s side. With US politics in tumult, and a presidential election on the horizon, Iran’s leaders are now faced with the unenviable task of determining whether and how to engage with a Trump administration that, while hostile, needs a high-profile win.

As is often the case in foreign policy, Iran’s leadership is divided about the balance of costs and benefits of talking to Trump. Some may think it is worth waiting until after the 2020 US presidential election to return to the negotiating table, potentially across from a more predictable and less mercurial Democratic administration.

But if Trump wins the election, his position will be stronger than ever, making him much less open to concessions than he is now, when he has a personal interest in a tangible foreign-policy victory, or, more important, the appearance of one. Moreover, economic conditions in Iran may be dire a year from now, weakening its negotiating position further.