European diplomats on both sides of the Atlantic, along with the Iran nuclear deal’s other signatories and many of the US president’s own advisers, have failed to convince Donald Trump not to pick apart the agreement.
In Brussels, European Union official are clearly exasperated with the US leader’s insistence on mixing a myriad complaints about Iranian behavior with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the six-party accord signed in 2015 which limits Tehran’s ability to enrich uranium to a weapons-grade level.
EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini did not mince words Friday when lambasting Trump’s decision not to certify Iran’s compliance, which she says has been full, and to ask the US Congress to examine ways to add sanctions on Tehran. Mogherini was officially the deal’s mediator when it was concluded in 2015.
“This deal is not a bilateral agreement, this is not an international treaty,” but part of a UN Security Council Resolution, she said tersely after the announcement, “so it is clearly not in the hands of any president of any country in the world to terminate an agreement of this sort.”
“The president of the United States has many powers, but not this one,” she added.
Mogherini and other European officials insist they will continue to observe the agreement, reminding Iran it must do the same. A joint statement by the governments of France, Germany and the UK urged Trump to reconsider his actions.
A high-level EU official speaking on background ahead of the announcement said the bloc agrees with Trump about the dangers of ballistic missiles, terrorism, Iranian-backed militias and what they see as other bad behavior, and believes they should be dealt with, but separately from the nuclear deal. At least with the current nuclear agreement, Tehran wouldn’t have the warheads for those missiles, the official pointed out.
Mogherini says Iran is fulfilling its obligations under the nuclear deal she helped broker
Now lobbying attention turns to Congress,where European outreach efforts continue, according to the EU official. “All the other issues of concern that may come up will not be better served if we undo the agreement,” the official explained, “because the agreement takes away a very dangerous risk, not only the risk of a nuclear arms race in the region, but also of uncontrolled nuclear proliferation, which is something we are now unfortunately seeing in North Korea.”
Lack of accord between US and EU
European Council on Foreign Relations analyst Ellie Geranmayeh says this move “has really been seen in Europe as a terrible betrayal of European allies.” While Europeans are also very concerned about missile proliferation and regional meddling, they want to keep open the channel of diplomatic initiatives. “If this deal starts to unravel,” she told DW, “it’s more likely than not to provoke activities from Iran inside the region that add to the fragility of that region.”
Erik Brattberg, who heads the Carnegie Endowment’s Europe program, says that although the EU’s reaction is obviously one of disappointment, the situation doesn’t need to be seen as “catastrophic.”
“While uncertainty about US intentions and its commitment to the JCPOA seem unavoidable in the short term,” Brattberg said, “it is at least preferable to a [complete] unilateral US withdrawal from the agreement from a European perspective.”
Sanctions aimed at Tehran may sting EU too
But things will get worse for European companies that have resumed doing business with Iran if Trump’s impulses are fulfilled. “I think there is a very good chance that US sanctions will be reapplied against Tehran,” predicts Nile Gardiner, Director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington. Republicans will strongly support renewing the sanctions, he said, and some Democrats may join them.
“European companies should be nervous,” Gardiner told DW. “They are playing with fire by investing in Iran, and could be hit hard by US sanctions. If they wish to do business with the US they would have to comply with American sanctions if they are imposed.”
Geranmayeh warns Gardiner may be right. “My message to the Europeans is, now that Trump has decertified, you better start planning on that contingency much more vigorously than before,” she said, “whether it’s because of a review process by Congress or because, come January, the president decides that he’s not going to renew these waivers.”
With EU foreign ministers meeting Monday to discuss their strategy, she says even if the EU is united behind a position of continuing the agreement, they’d better start coordinating on how far they are willing to go to salvage the deal and how to safeguard their companies from the White House if all else fails.
Shada Islam, director of policy at Friends of Europe, could only shake her head about the developments. “This was a hard-fought deal,” she told DW, adding that its abolishment would be dangerous for the world. “This will empower all those in Iran who don’t want the nuclear agreement – is that what we want?”