Donald Trump’s stance towards Iran will ultimately force the European Union to choose between committing a crime and making a mistake. If the White House stops fulfilling its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, as the Iran deal is formally known, the strength of the transatlantic coalition – America’s most important and most reliable partnership – will be questioned.
The US intelligence community and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have repeatedly confirmed that Tehran was complying with the deal. The JCPOA was designed to respond to Iranian violations but not to deal with an isolationist American using its veto power outside of the terms of the deal. The Bush and Obama administrations convinced Russia, China, and the UN Security Council to sanction Tehran with the aim to curb its nuclear program. The nuclear deal traded these punitive measures for tight nuclear restrictions and checks, but the White House and its partners were concerned that the Security Council might fail to re-impose the sanctions if Iran cheated, reducing Tehran’s incentive for long-term compliance.
Europe’s concerns are grounded on its rich commercial relations with Tehran that started before the final agreement was signed in 2015. Business trips to the country started under pre-2015 interim agreement and France opened the first trade office in Tehran only two months after the final deal was struck. Germany’s and France’s chemical and machine-tools industries and car-makers have signed agreements to export to Iran while oil and gas companies are flocking in ever-increasing numbers. In what is perhaps the sweetest deals of them all – struck by Airbus – the European giant has agreed to sell billions of euros’ worth of commercial planes to Iran.
Given this economic background and richness of EU-Iran commercial ties, it is not difficult to see why Europe is concerned about the future of the nuclear deal. In the light of President Trump’s recent failure to confirm Iran’s compliance with the deal, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the White House was not seeking to disrupt European business deals with Iran. “The president’s been pretty clear that it’s not his intent to interfere with business deals that the Europeans may have under way with Iran,” Mr. Tillerson said and added that “he’s said it clearly: ‘That’s fine. You guys do what you want to do.’” Mr. Tillerson also pointed out that “we’ve been working with the Europeans for six months,” adding that “they have been brought along with this same thought process. It doesn’t mean that they necessarily agree entirely with it…Now we will start a more formalized process with them now that the policy’s been adopted.”
EU leaders in the meantime reiterated the EU’s “full commitment” to the 2015 agreement and Brussels has said it would keep European sanctions suspended as long as Tehran sticks by its commitments under the JCPOA. However, many diplomats and heads of state – including British Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron – also stressed the importance of keeping pressure on Iran over issues such as ballistic-missile tests and Iran’s regional activities.
‘Trump’s Iran Threats Risk a US Break With Europe’ – Op-Ed by Jarrett Blanc – Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.