“When the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump ratcheted up its ‘maximum pressure’ campaign last May, with the professed aim of driving Iran’s oil exports to zero, it didn’t take long for Tehran to respond with escalation of its own. In the months since, Iran has reportedly attacked pipelines, tankers, and one of the world’s largest oil processing facilities in Saudi Arabia—prompting a spike not just in oil prices but also in worries about a new war in the Middle East. It has also repeatedly breached the original terms of the 2015 nuclear accord—known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA—which sought to limit the country’s nuclear activities and from which the Trump administration withdrew in 2018.

“Tehran likely intended these moves to persuade the United States to reconsider its sanctions campaign, and to spur other parties to the JCPOA to urge Washington to relent. For a while, Iran may have felt its approach was working: French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson both tried to engineer a deal in which Iran would return to compliance with the JCPOA in exchange for sanctions relief. Such a bargain was reportedly derailed at the last minute in September, when Iran demanded that sanctions relief precede a proposed meeting between Trump and Iranian president Hassan Rouhani at the U.N. General Assembly. But since then, Iran may have overstepped. On November 9, it announced plans to resume uranium enrichment at an underground bunker and to ramp up the pace of enrichment elsewhere. In response, European signatories to the JCPOA threatened to reimpose sanctions…”

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