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The US and Iran Are Playing a Dangerous Game

International actors, especially in Europe, are working to ease tensions between the US and Iran. But the situation is increasingly tenuous, and it could get much worse – potentially leading to a direct confrontation between the US and Iran – before diplomacy can make it better.

BERLIN – As the United States and Iran face off in the Persian Gulf, their asymmetric conflict risks spiraling out of control. Unless the rest of the world gets involved, the dangerous game both countries are playing could end in direct confrontation.

The spiral was arguably set in motion in May 2018, when the US announced its withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and reinstated sanctions. Since then, the US has escalated its sanctions multiple times, as part of a “maximum pressure” strategy that has slashed Iran’s commercial transactions with the rest of the world, gutted oil revenues, spurred currency devaluation, and sent the economy into recession.

Because Iran doesn’t have the capacity to respond in kind to the US, it has had to get creative. For starters, it has put pressure on America’s European allies – including France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, as well as the European Union as a whole – arguing that they should step in to ensure the benefits that it was supposed to gain under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the 2015 agreement is formally known.

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