The potential for miscalculation is large and growing. American troops are within miles of Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria. Its warships are nose to nose with Iranian patrols in the Gulf. America recently declared the Guards a terrorist group; then Iran did the same to American forces in the Middle East. Officials on both sides say their intent is peaceful, but who can believe them? America’s accusations that Iran has been planning to attack American forces or its allies in the Middle East are suspiciously unspecific. Violence by Iran’s proxies may be just the sort of provocation that leads America to launch a military strike. Mr Pompeo once suggested that he preferred American sorties to nuclear talks with Iran. Mr Bolton penned an article in 2015 in the New York Times entitled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran”. Now even Mr.Rouhani appears to agree that the way forward lies with provocation and escalation.
A nuclear Iran would spur proliferation across the Middle East. Bombing would not destroy Iranian nuclear know-how, but it would drive the programme underground, making it impossible to monitor and thus all the more dangerous. The only permanent solution is renewed negotiation. Mr Trump, a harsh critic of America’s foreign wars, therefore needs to keep the likes of Mr Bolton in check. He will face pressure from hard line politicians at home and opposition in the region, not least from Israel.
Doing deals, though, is a Trump trademark. The president has shown an ability to change direction abruptly, as with North Korea. A new war is not in his interest, even if being hard on Iran is part of his brand. The Europeans can help him by urging Iran to keep within the deal—and condemning it if it leaves. Mr.Rouhani, who spurned Mr Trump in the past, now says he is willing to talk with the deal’s other signatories if today’s agreement is the basis. That has so far been a non-starter for the Trump administration. It should not be. As the threat of a conflict grows, all sides need to head back to the negotiating table.