Today hardliners are ascendant on both sides. Bellicose rhetoric has returned. Mr Bolton and Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, believe in using economic pressure to topple the Iranian regime and bombs to stop its nuclear programme. In Tehran the mullahs and their Revolutionary Guards do not trust America. They are tightening their grip at home and lashing out abroad. In both countries policy is being dictated by intransigents, who risk stumbling into war.
It is probably too late to save the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran has been complying, but critics in America complain that its temporary restrictions will ultimately legitimise the nuclear programme and that the deal will not stop Iran from producing missiles or sowing murder and mayhem abroad. President Donald Trump pulled America out of the agreement last year, calling it a “disaster”.
It is not, but that damage is done. Renewed sanctions on Iran and the threat to punish anyone who trades with it have wrecked what is left of the agreement. Last week America cancelled waivers that let some countries continue to buy Iranian oil. It is extending sanctions to Iran’s metals exports. Instead of reaping the benefits of co-operation, Iran has been cut off from the global economy. The Rial has plummeted, inflation is rising and wages are falling. The economy is in crisis.