European Allies Signal Trump On Iranian Nuclear Deal: We Don’t Support You
America’s three most important European allies are sending a signal to the Trump Administration regarding the Iran nuclear deal, and it’s not one of support:
Top European diplomats offered Iran’s foreign minister blanket support Thursday for the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran even as the White House weighs whether to step away from the pact.
But the European envoys also questioned Mohammad Javad Zarif over disputes such as Iran’s missile program and its role in Syria’s war as a key ally of President Bashar al-Assad.
The messages from the foreign ministers of France, Britain and Germany sought to acknowledge the range of Western concerns, including Iran’s ballistic missile development and its crackdown on dissent after street protests earlier this month.
But Europe also signaled its opposition to the Trump administration over the nuclear deal, which ended most international sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
“Unity is essential to preserve a deal that is working, that is making the world safer, that is preventing a nuclear arms race in the region,” said the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, after the talks in Brussels.
President Trump must decide by Friday whether to continue to back the provisions of the nuclear deal, which effectively opened Iran to international commerce, including a tentative deal with U.S. aircraft maker Boeing.
Officials in the Trump administration have suggested that the president plans to extend the waivers that lifted sanctions on Iran but could seek new measures over issues such as human rights and Tehran’s missile program. This was first reported by the Associated Press.
Such a move would offer some relief in Europe, where leaders fear that unilateral U.S. sanctions on Iran could unravel the nuclear deal hammered out between Iran and six world powers.
In October, Trump declined to certify that the agreement was in U.S. national security interests despite reports by the U.N. nuclear agency and others that Iran was abiding by the terms of the deal.
In a statement before the Brussels meeting, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson highlighted the sharp break with Washington, calling the nuclear deal “a crucial agreement that makes the world safer.”
“There is no indication today that could call into doubt Iranian respect of the agreement,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters in Brussels.
On Twitter, Zarif posted a message noting “strong consensus in Brussels” that Iran was complying with the nuclear deal and that any attempt to undercut the accord was “unacceptable.”
The meeting was the Iranian foreign minister’s first face-to-face dialogue in the West since a wave of unrest touched off by frustrations over Iran’s stumbling economy. Among the protesters’ grievances was the failure of the nuclear accord to quickly boost the Iranian economy, as promised by its key backers, including President Hassan Rouhani.
This meeting between Iran and representatives from the three Western European nations that participated in the talks that led to the 2015 agreement under which Iran halted its nuclear weapons research program, turned over its stockpile of usable nuclear material, and agreed to a long-term inspection regime in return for the lifting of a series of international sanctions comes some three months after President Trump declined to certify Iranian compliance with the agreement as required by Federal law. That decision was made notwithstanding the fact that all of the available evidence, including the information provided by the International Atomic Energy Association, which is overseeing inspections under the law, indicates that the Islamic Republic is, in fact, complying with the agreement and that there is no factual basis for the assertion that it has violated either the letter or the spirit of the agreement. Trump also made this decision despite the fact that his own foreign policy team, including most notably Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, were on the record as saying that Iran was in compliance with the agreement and that staying in the agreement was in the national interest of the United States.
At the time he decertified Iranian compliance with the agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA), Trump suggested that he would be open to renegotiating the deal to make it stronger. As I noted at the time, though, the likelihood of that happening was somewhere between slim and none. The JCPOA was more than just an agreement between the United States and Iran, it also included participation from the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, as well as China and Russia. The odds of getting these nations to agree that a return to the bargaining table was either necessary or advisable was always slim at best, especially given the fact that there’s no evidence that Iran is failing to live up to the terms of the agreement. This was especially true with respect to China and Russia, of course, but there were also clear indications that our European allies were not on board with the idea of reopening the JCPOA, and the statements released after this meeting with Iran’s Foreign Minister seem to confirm that.
As noted above, Trump has until tomorrow to decide on whether or not the United States will lift another group of sanctions on Iran as required by the agreement. Right now, the expectation seems to be that Trump will move forward with the latest round of sanctions relief notwithstanding his previous decertification decision, but given the President’s mercurial nature we won’t know for sure until the decision is actually announced. The smart thing to do, of course, would be to lift the sanctions as required given that the evidence continues to show that Iran is complying with the agreement, but this Administration has shown us that it seldom does the smart thing so assuming that in this case is by no means a safe bet. Failure to lift the sanctions, of course, would mean that it is the United States that is not in compliance with the JCPOA, but that may be exactly what Trump wants even though it would be a highly foolish thing to do.