U.S. Sanctions Cut Deep, but Iran Seems Unlikely to Budge

But analysts on opposing sides of the debate over the Trump administration’s pressure tactics drew differing conclusions from the historical parallel.

After nearly eight years of war with Iraq, the Ayatollah Khomeini, who was then Iran’s supreme leader, accepted a United Nations-brokered cease-fire in 1988, despite having vowed to wage war until victory. He likened the agreement to drinking from a “poisoned chalice.”

To Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a hawkish Washington think tank that advocates pressuring Iran into submission, that history suggests that Iran will fold if under enough strain.

“To say that there are pressures on Iran now that they didn’t have to undergo during the war is a major testament to how effective the sanctions are,” he said. “Iran will double down, triple down, quadruple down, but then ultimately do a 180 if they perceive that there’s no way out.”

But giving in to the Trump administration’s demands would amount to near-total capitulation for Iran’s leaders, something other analysts said Iranians would be unwilling to accept, given that it could lead to a wholesale regime change.

That is exactly what at least one member of the Trump administration seems to be looking for.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently acknowledged to Michael J. Morell, a former acting director of the C.I.A., that the administration’s strategy would not coerce Iranian leaders into a friendlier stance. But, he said, “I think what can change is, the people can change the government.”

Ali Vaez, director of the Iran project at the International Crisis Group, said: “From the Iranian perspective, the only thing that’s more dangerous than suffering from sanctions is surrendering to them. Ayatollah Khamenei has believed over the years that if you give in to pressure, it won’t actually alleviate it, but it will actually invite more pressure. With that worldview, the Iranians are quite unlikely to be calling President Trump anytime soon.”

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