With the Donald Trump administration in the office, the future of the Iranian nuclear deal is increasingly in the hands of the Europeans. What emerged as a transatlantic success, having harnessed global support, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed by Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, United Kingdom, and United States) was a collective international effort to address a common global challenge.
The Europeans have always been more active and better positioned to deal with Iran. Having been spared of traumatic events such as the US hostage crisis and continuous “Death to America“ slogans, the Europeans initiated the nuclear negotiations in 2003 without the United States in an attempt to maintain economic and diplomatic ties with Tehran. Americans joined three years later, which was subsequently followed by the EU’s reduced economic engagement and a stinging sanctions regime in 2012 including an oil embargo and a cutoff from the international financial system.
Now, with an abrupt change in the White House and the US president that sees the JCPOA as the “dumbest deal“, the Europeans will likely have to stand in the defense of the deal once again. Experts generally foresee four feasible scenarios of Washington’s future Iran policy: 1. Killing the deal, 2. Attempting to renegotiate the deal, 3. Aggressively enforcing the deal, or 4. Accepting the deal provided that American companies will gain market share.
It has also been recently reported that European leaders are going to present President Trump with alternative solutions in the hope to bolster their case. Confirming the EU’s commitment to uphold the deal, Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the EU’s Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, argued that “the JCPOA is working for all.” According to Mrs. Mogherini, the “full commitment to respect and implement the deal” of all parties “sends a reassuring signal to the international community of Iran’s adherence to a civilian nuclear program exclusively for peaceful purposes.” The EU, she added, “will continue to work hand in hand with all those willing to contribute to its full implementation.”
For Brussels, the deal is a better alternative to the possibility of another conflict in the Middle East or an Iranian nuclear bomb threatening both Israel and the global nonproliferation regime. In Mrs. Mogherini’s words, the deal is “the result of brave choices, political leadership, collective determination and hard work” – doing away with it might also mean “facing one more military conflict in a region that is already far too destabilized.”
On top of keeping the Middle East free of an Iranian nuclear deal, the EU has been keen on using the nuclear deal as a stepping-stone towards boosting its relations with Tehran. The EU sees Iran as the key player in the region that must be engaged, not isolated. Therefore, Europe not only seeks to boost economic ties with Tehran but it would also like to encourage more cooperation on economic and energy issues, migration pressures and educational exchanges.
‘Trump, the EU, and Iran Policy: Multiple Pathways Ahead’ – Analysis by Cornelius Adebahr – Carnegie Europe.