Policy Memo

You are an analyst in the U.S. State Department working on issues relating to the Middle East. The Supreme Leader of Iran makes the following public announcement:

“The Islamic Republic of Iran has been fighting, alongside other civilized nations, the COVID- 19 virus. Unfortunately, our ability to fight this virus has been hampered by continued and growing U.S. sanctions, which they have refused to weaken, even at the request of their own friends and allies. These efforts have prevented us from acquiring the medical and humani- tarian supplies which we need. This comes in the aftermath of the United States unilaterally leaving the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and threatening us with war, despite our full compliance with that agreement, and the murderous and illegal assassination of Major General Qasem Soleimani. As a proud nation, we can no longer tolerate intimidation of this sort. We have therefore reluctantly come to the conclusion that we must take the step of acquiring the only capability which powers like the United States respect and understand, and the only capability which will truly guarantee our sovereignty: nuclear weapons. We hereby give notice of our intention to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, suspend inspections of our nuclear facilities, and acquire nuclear weapons in short order. We must also warn any outsiders that any effort to interfere or prevent us from doing this will be met with fearsome resistance and retaliation.”

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Everything else is the same as it is in the real world today. The world is in the midst of a global health crisis, the global economy remains fragile, Donald Trump has lost the 2020 presidential election and President-elect Joe Biden will become President in January 2021. You can assume that U.S. intelligence believes Iran has enough enriched uranium that, if enriched further, would provide the material for one nuclear weapon, and that this process would take approximately 3 months. However, it is possible that U.S. intelligence is wrong, and/or that Iran has a covert facility producing highly-enriched uranium that the United States is unaware of.

You have been asked to write a memo for the U.S. Secretary of State proposing a strategy for the United States to pursue. For example, you might propose a strategy to persuade Iran to rethink its decision; pursue additional sanctions against Iran; threaten (or pursue) war against Iran; pursue a diplomatic effort to prevent other countries from following suit if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons; or, indeed, do nothing (or some other strategy—be creative!). You can assume that the Secretary of State wants to hear your unvarnished opinion about the best strategy for the United States to pursue: your recommendations should not be colored by what you think the Secretary wishes to hear, or your assessment of the Secretary’s (or the broader Trump administration’s) policy preferences.

Your memo should:
• Identify the key U.S. interests that the United States has.
• Recommend a strategy for the U.S. to achieve these goals.
• Outline the risks and downsides of your recommended approach and how they might be mitigated. • Make a case for why that course of action is the best option available.


Your memo should be no more than 2 pages long (single spaced). It should be formatted to look like a memo (including a header stating who the memo is being sent to, who it is from, and what the subject is). References or a list of consulted works is not required. Summarize your argument up front; use bullet points if you want; be clear and concise. This is a difficult challenge involving a number of trade-offs, so there is no right answer:

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