President Donald Trump’s repeated promises to rip up the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal may accomplish what Tehran has been trying to do for decades — drive a damaging wedge between the U.S. and key European allies.
Trump has made no secret of his dislike for the 2015 agreement, which saw painful sanctions lifted in exchange for Iran curbing its nuclear program. On the campaign trail, he called it “the worst deal ever.”
On Thursday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said “Iran is clearly in default” of U.S. expectations for the pact. He cited Iranian support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, its development of ballistic missiles and “cyber activities.”
Tillerson added: “We have to consider the totality of Iran’s activities and not let our view be defined solely by the nuclear agreement.”
While the Trump administration also extended sanctions relief to Tehran under that deal, NBC News reported that Trump plans to sign off on a new Iran policy ahead of his first appearance at the United Nations General Assembly next week. The president is seeking to take a more aggressive approach, according to administration officials.
While there is broad consensus that Iran is abiding by the agreement with the U.S., Russia, China and three European powers, some American officials have hinted that Trump would decertify the deal when it comes up for renewal in October.
Earlier this month, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said that the agreement “falls short of what was promised. We were promised an end to the Iranian nuclear program. What emerged was not an end but a pause.”
“So do we allow ourselves to have blinders on to a flawed deal or do we say what else can we do is there something else we should be doing now to prevent what’s going to happen 10 years from now?” she added during comments at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank. “We can’t continue to kick this down the road.”
European governments stand firmly behind the plan, and European companies have pursued a series of partnerships inside Iran now that major sanctions have been lifted.
So if it pulled out of the deal, the U.S. would not be able to count on the EU to reimpose the tough multilateral sanctions that were so effective in bringing Iran to the negotiating table in the first place, according to Thomas Wright, an expert in American foreign policy at the Brookings Institution.
“The Europeans would be furious at Trump for wrecking the agreement and they would also worry about the prospect and consequence of U.S. strikes on Iran’s nuclear program,” he said.
Wright added that the “result could be a diplomatic crisis — worse than the Iraq crisis of 2003,” referring to the U.S.-EU rift that followed the American invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
And achieving the sort of international consensus that produced the 2015 agreement would be practically impossible, he suggested. Continue reading.