Europe Mulls Policy Response as Trump Repeats Threat to End Iran Deal
By Henry Ridgwell October 17, 2017
The European Union's foreign policy chief describes U.S. President Donald Trump's decision not to re-certify Iran's compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal as an "internal U.S. process."
European countries, along with the other signatories, Russia and China, said Tehran is keeping its end of the deal. But President Trump claims Iran has repeatedly violated the letter and spirit of the agreement, which suspends sanctions in return for limits on the country's atomic program.
The EU commissioner for foreign affairs, Federica Mogherini, said Monday that the Iran deal was "the culmination of 12 years of diplomacy facilitated by the European Union." Mogherini is due to travel to Washington in early November to lobby in favor of the Iran deal.
"The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action… is a key element of the nuclear non-proliferation global architecture and crucial for the security of the region," Mogherini told reporters Monday. "Its successful implementation continues to ensure that Iran's nuclear program remains exclusively peaceful."
Trump reiterated his threat Monday to fully withdraw from the deal, claiming that Iran had committed several violations and continues to pose a grave security threat.
"They negotiated a phenomenal deal for themselves but a horrible deal for the United States. And we're going to see what happens," he said.
On Friday, Trump stopped recertifying the deal every 90 days as required by the U.S. Congress. It means Congress will now decide the next step. Should the U.S. seek to impose additional sanctions on Iran, Europe does have options to respond, says analyst Paulina Izewicz of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
"One of those tools is blocking legislation, that effectively bans European persons and entities from abiding by U.S. secondary sanctions, which would be one of the elements of the package that would be re-imposed in terms of sanctions on Iran."
But Izewicz acknowledges those tools are as yet untested.
"The legislation has been in place since 1996 but has not actually been used. So it's quite difficult. And ultimately I think it will come down to whether Iran considers the economic benefits to be sufficient for it to keep its end of the bargain."
Germany's foreign minister has warned that Washington risks driving Europe "into a common position with Russia and China against the USA."
Moscow and Beijing have made it clear they have no desire to return to the negotiating table over Iran.
"From Beijing's perspective, the American approach under Trump seems a bit like a bit of a bully towards Iran, which is a strategic partner of China, particularly in terms of energy supply," Professor Steve Tsang of the London School Of Oriental and African Studies told VOA in an interview.
Beijing fears the fallout of a U.S. withdrawal on security in its own backyard – with North Korea on the brink of developing nuclear bombs.
"If the Iranians have made a deal, and largely kept to it, and by the account of all other U.N. Security Council Members have kept to it, and yet the Americans would then unilaterally go back on it and ask for more; how can the Chinese reassure the North Koreans that doing a deal with the Americans would be worth the paper it would be printed on?" adds Tsang.
U.S. lawmakers have 60 days to decide whether to re-impose the sanctions suspended under the deal or keep the agreement in place.
Congress could also seek to put additional conditions on Tehran, such as demanding that it halt ballistic missile testing – a move Iran has already ruled out.
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