Is there still a deal to be done with Iran?

Yet the attacks in the Gulf region, and Iranian threats to start abandoning the nuclear deal without some form of economic relief, also point to an Iranian effort to build up leverage, Jake Sullivan, a former Iran negotiator in the Obama administration, told us. Doing so “gives them a rationale for coming to the table in something other than a submissive way,” he said.

They might still insist on concessions as a condition for talks—possibly, Maloney said, a partial lifting of oil sanctions to bring them back to the levels they were trading in May. At the time, the administration had waivers in place to allow a handful of countries to continue importing Iranian oil, but let them lapse, in an effort to drive Iran’s oil exports to zero.

Given that Iran is now making reversible threats to restart its nuclear program, Maloney said a “freeze for freeze” arrangement like the interim nuclear deal the Obama administration struck in 2013 could help galvanize negotiations. The key question, she said, is: “What is a quid pro quo, that is non-permanent, that is enough to incentivize each party to come back to the table but not so much to make negotiations on a full deal irrelevant?”