There are many security divides between the European Union and the United States under Donald Trump but nowhere is this more apparent than in the case of Iran. Given the harsh stance of the new US administration towards Tehran and its hostility towards the nuclear deal, this new dynamics will inevitably lead to a transatlantic clash on the issue. Brussels should get ready now to mitigate the negative consequences and preserve both EU’s and US’ strategic interests on non-proliferation.
Donald Trump is seeking to shift US policy on Iran away from diplomacy towards containment. The nuclear deal – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the JCPOA) – is going to be the primary target. The US President has called Iran a “fanatical regime” and “rouge nation” and placed extensive restrictions on Iranian nationals. His administration has also unambiguously teamed up with Iran’s archrival, Saudi Arabia, in addressing the many conflicts across the Middle East.
The White House’s new strategy on Iran released in October put an emphasis on “neutralizing” Iran’s destabilizing aggression in the region. President Trump also decided to “decertify” the JCPOA, meaning that he will not attest to Congress that Iran is abiding by its terms. In response, the leading EU economies released a joint statement expressing their concern at President Trump’s policy while the overall situation around the nuclear deal has already strained transatlantic relations. As Ms. Mogherini put it: Trump’s policy has reduced the credibility of the United States as the EU’s future partner on Iran policy.
The current developments not only endanger European non-proliferation goals but they also heighten the risk of a nuclear arms race including a possible military escalation in Europe’s vicinity. Any direct or indirect confrontation of American and Iranian-backed forces would have a profound impact across the Middle East. While Brussels and Washington share many common concerns regarding Tehran, their approaches are strikingly different.
The EU consistently supports the JCPOA, warning that ditching the deal would make it much more difficult to resolve any disagreements with Iran. Moreover, there are valid fears that isolating the country further would only trigger hardline elements on the Iranian political scene and thus further fuel regional instability. As Ms. Mogherini has said, “Europe feels an interest and a responsibility to engage with Iran”, and an increasing number of European governments is convinced that it is a diplomatic dialogue with Iran that will ultimately reduce the violence and instability in the Middle East.
Therefore, the European governments and the EU need to safeguard the nuclear deal and plan for any contingency in their relationship with the United States. Europe should also further pursue the diplomatic route and engage in tough diplomacy with Iran on non-nuclear issues such as the freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf, reducing the violence in the conflicts currently underway in Yemen and Syria and lowering tensions in Iraqi Kurdistan. Moreover, the EU should also create a platform for regional dialogue and further nurture the channels they have developed with the Iranian leadership to help mitigate the negative effects of Donald Trump’s new Iran policy.
‘The Coming Clash: Why Iran Will Divide Europe from the United States’ – Policy Brief by Ellie Geranmayeh – European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).
(The Policy Brief can be downloaded here)