● Hard-liners are more ascendant than ever in Tehran. Pompeo cited a steady escalation of attacks since early May on tankers, a Saudi oil pipeline, the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad and a Saudi airport. Potentially more dangerous are Iran’s moves to escape provisions of the 2015 nuclear agreement. Yukiya Amano, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, reported this week that Iran is increasing its production of enriched uranium, which was capped under the pact.
● Diplomatic feelers from Iran, which raised some hopes in Washington, lack support from the supreme leader’s camp. One such feint was this week’s release after nearly four years in prison of Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese businessman who had been living in Washington. Two months ago, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had proposed “serious dialogue” on a prisoner swap for Zakka. Sabotaging such diplomatic byplay may have been one goal of hard-liners in Thursday’s tanker attacks.
The tableau of recent weeks has been striking. Trump has been a whirling dervish of diplomacy, almost pleading for Iran to come to the negotiating table and discuss a broader, longer-lasting deal that Trump could claim was an improvement over the one negotiated by his predecessor. Meanwhile, Khamenei has sat implacable, even as President Hassan Rouhani dangled hints that Iran might be willing to talk.