Tactics Report: China and UAE undermining America’s Iran policy claims major new report

China and the UAE are deliberately undermining America’s policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran, claims a major new report on how the West’s approach to containing the Middle East country has failed.

  • Historic Euro-Atlantic defence and security partnership ruptured by President Trump
  • Biden administration unlikely to restore to full Iran nuclear deal

The report, Iran in-between us, written by the Tactics Institute, Buckingham University’s Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies, Erasmus University College and Clingendael (the Netherlands Institute of International Relations), is highly critical of the West’s recent approach to dealing with Iran. It paints a bleak picture of the Euro-Atlantic partnership, which it believes was severely damaged when President Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) a policy still supported by the EU and expresses concern that the UK’s key role in acting as a bridge between America and Europe may have been damaged by Brexit.


“In May of 2018, President Trump formally announced that he was withdrawing the United States from the confines and commitments of the 2015 deal. That, in turn, set the stage for the Administration’s current policy toward the Islamic Republic – one which is geared toward applying “maximum” economic and political pressure on the Iranian regime,” it says.


“The objectives of this approach are by now abundantly clear. The White House is not interested in fomenting a change of regime in Tehran, although some sort of political transition is indeed possible should “maximum pressure” cause the Iranian regime to collapse. Rather, U.S. policy seeks to curb the Iranian regime’s malign regional behaviour and eventually force it back to the international negotiating table to conclude a broader, more comprehensive accord that – in the eyes of the Administration – better serves American strategic interests.”


“Assorted commentators and foreign policy experts have argued that the White House’s approach to Iran has failed in its objectives, contributed to a deterioration of humanitarian conditions within the Islamic Republic, and intensified the potential for instability in the Middle East.”


But, Ilan Berman, Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington DC dismisses this criticism saying this analysis is “…inaccurate because the empirical data suggests that ‘maximum pressure’ has had a pronounced effect on the Islamic Republic’s internal dynamics, regime stability, and its ability to sponsor and foment regional instability.”


“Most directly, the Trump administration’s escalating campaign of economic and political pressure has succeeded in profoundly impacting the Iranian regime’s financial situation. Iranian officials have disclosed that, since the start of 2019, the country’s once-robust oil revenues have declined by more than 90 per cent, from around $100 billion annually to just $8 billion a year.”


It goes on to detail how Tehran’s response was to pivot to the East signing a major trade and investment deal with China worth up to $400 billion, which have undermined the impact of Washington’s sanctions. While the UAE has continued to act as a key financial partner and facilitator of the Islamic Republic.


“While it is more hostile towards Iran, the UAE nevertheless remains inextricably linked to it (especially Dubai). The reasons for this are many and include the fact that a quarter of Dubai’s citizens are of Iranian descent, many firms maintain close links and Dubai’s economic model is in significant part based on the facilitation of global illicit financial flows. Its globally networked economy offers plenty of opportunities to leverage the 260 kilometres that separate Dubai from Bandar-e-Abbas.”


Other contributors, including Erwin van Veen a Senior Research Fellow at Clingendael, Professor Julian Richards, Professor of Politics, and Director of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies (BUCSIS) University of Buckingham and former CIA Station Chief Douglas London, Adjunct Associate Professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, highlight the differing view between the US and EU by offering a different narrative around the JCPOA and its effectiveness.


However, the policy experts agree that the decision by the US to abruptly change policy, while the EU clung to the JCPOA had severely damaged the Euro-Atlantic partnership.

“This broader divergence, in turn, has exacerbated the political distance between the U.S. and Europe on issues such as Iran. Thus, the Trump administration’s August 2020 effort to extend the United Nations arms embargo on Iran – a position broadly consistent in principle with European attitudes – proved unsuccessful, undermined not only by Russia and China (both of which serve as major strategic partners of Iran) but also by European nations now increasingly unwilling to abide by or comply with U.S. policy. As of this writing, a follow-on conflict over the Trump administration’s formal invocation of a “snapback” of multilateral sanctions on Iran is brewing at the United Nations, with assorted countries (including France, Germany and the United Kingdom, the so-called “E3” nations) voicing their opposition to the American position.”

Dr Ilya Roubanis, Director of Research at the Tactics Institute commented: “The divergence between the US and EU is deeply troubling and has been expertly exploited by Iran. Reorientating its foreign policy towards the East and using the UAE to bust sanctions, has undermined the US policy of “maximum pressure”, while the Trump Administration’s decision to cut and run from JCPOA has neutered the effectiveness of European diplomacy. Looking forward it seems unlikely that the Biden Administration will fully reverse its current approach as it’s one of the few things that both Republicans and Democrats agree on. This means this policy muddle is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.”



“If he is serious about bolstering the UK’s diplomatic position, then in addition to the setting out plans for growth post-pandemic, he must also encourage and cajole the world’s biggest economies into agreeing on a joint approach to dealing with Iran, whether this is a return to the successful JCPOA or doubling down on US policy of ‘maximum pressure’. Either way, the G7 must speak with one voice and clamp down on those countries, namely China and the UAE which have systematically undermined attempts to contain Iran. If not the current instability in the Middle East including proxy conflicts in Yemen and Syria look set to continue for years to come.”




Notes to Editors:

The Tactics Institute for Security and Counter-Terrorism is an independent, non-partisan, think tank.

They bring together experience in social services, cybersecurity, legal expertise and a pool of experts with procurement, military operations and areas studies expertise. Providing contextually sensitive support for decision-makers, whilst also aspiring to open new public debates on security policy.

They focus on politically motivated transnational crime, with reports and events designed to guide risk assessment, social and security policy. Going beyond a cause-effect approach, they seek to identify the political and social context in which terrorist threats evolve, without shying away from questions of social and economic significance.



To make a significant contribution to the discrediting of violence as a means of political struggle by supporting security options that bolster open, pluralistic, and cohesive societies governed by the rule of law.

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