Iran should stop being so righteous — and others need to step up

Iran should stop being so righteous — and others need to step up
© ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

Iran’s attack on two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, a critical passageway for international shipping, was a criminal act. Also criminal were the attacks, by Iranian proxies, on airports and pipelines in Saudi Arabia and on American bases in Iraq, and similar attacks to disrupt the economy in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The U.S. drone that Iran shot down on June 20 was another in a series of aggressive acts by Tehran that requires immediate international censure.  

Iran’s reckless and dangerous behavior is now correctly a subject for the United Nations Security Council to review and attempt to manage. To permit a country to impede international shipping and threaten the free passage of oil through the Strait of Hormuz is unacceptable, as are its attacks against the U.S., Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The international community, in this case represented by the U.N., has an obligation to take action against Iran for unlawful, aggressive behavior.

Countries that are affected by Iran’s efforts to impede oil and other shipments through the Strait of Hormuz should be obligated to use their military and other resources necessary to ensure safe passage of their vessels through this critical passageway. To rely solely on the U.S. to ensure safe passageway is unrealistic. Thus, China, Japan, South Korea and other countries who rely on the oil that transits the Strait need to step up and take on this responsibility.


There has been significant commentary on why Iran felt justified in taking these criminal acts. Often cited is the 2015 nuclear deal — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — and the Trump administration’s 2018 decision to withdraw from the agreement and reimpose sanctions on Iran. Many continue to criticize President TrumpDonald TrumpEx-DOJ official Rosenstein says he was not aware of subpoena targeting Democrats: report Ex-Biden adviser says Birx told him she hoped election turned out 'a certain way' Cheney rips Arizona election audit: 'It is an effort to subvert democracy' MORE for this decision. Those who supported the withdrawal cited the sunset clause that, after 15 years, would permit Iran to enrich an unlimited amount of uranium, to include weapons-grade highly enriched uranium, using upgraded, modern centrifuges indigenously produced in Iran.  

As President Obama confirmed, the JCPOA ensured that “Iran had no possibility to achieve a rapid nuclear weapons breakout for at least the next decade.” One of the concerns of the critics of this agreement was that, after a decade, Iran could pursue a nuclear weapons capability, as it reportedly was doing prior to 2003. This likelihood, it was argued, would encourage other regional states, such as Saudi Arabia, to pursue nuclear weapons programs. A nuclear arms race in the Middle East would become a reality, after 10 to 15 years, with obvious consequences to the region and beyond.

Iran’s recent decision to abrogate part of the JCPOA and exceed limits on its stockpile of enriched uranium — in addition to using its Revolutionary Guard forces to unilaterally, and through proxies, attack and threaten safe passage through the Strait of Hormuz while also attacking the U.S. and the Gulf states — should be of immediate concern for the region and the international community. These actions require the U.N. Security Council’s immediate attention.  Regardless of Iran’s assertion that the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA and the imposition of sanctions justified their acts, the fact is that Iran’s actions were criminal and a threat to the region and beyond.

The Trump administration has offered to enter into negotiations with Iran to work through these issues. The response to date has been a resounding “no” from the leadership in Tehran. In fact, Tehran has made it clear that the lifting of sanctions and possibly other conditions on the U.S. need to happen before Iran would consider a dialogue with the U.S. 

The U.S. offer to talk seems reasonable, especially given some of the egregious actions taken by Iran against the U.S. and other countries. In the final analysis, it’s also the Iranian people who are suffering — with a weak economy, high unemployment, runaway inflation, spiraling food prices and medicinal shortages. Iran should unconditionally accept the U.S. invitation to talk. The result could benefit both countries.

Ambassador Joseph R. DeTrani was the State Department’s special envoy for negotiations with North Korea from 2003 to 2006. He directed the National Counterproliferation Center in 2010 and was associate director of national intelligence. He served more than two decades with the CIA and as a member of the Senior Intelligence Service. The views are the author’s and not those of any government department or agency.