Fear­ing US tor­pedo, Europe scram­bles to save Iran deal

Ber­lin, Paris, Lon­don pre­par­ing re­sponse to Trump

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

BER­LIN: Euro­pean coun­tries are scram­bling to cob­ble to­gether a pack­age of mea­sures they hope will keep the Iran nu­clear deal on track if US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ig­nores their pleas and de­cer­ti­fies the land­mark 2015 agree­ment this week. The pack­age would in­clude a strong state­ment back­ing the deal by Euro­pean pow­ers, to­gether with ef­forts to lobby the US Congress and put wider pres­sure on Iran, of­fi­cials said.

But with­out strong US sup­port for the deal, se­nior of­fi­cials in Ber­lin, Paris and Lon­don say it may be only a mat­ter of time be­fore the pact be­tween Tehran and six world pow­ers un­rav­els, with grave con­se­quences for Mid­dle East se­cu­rity, non­pro­lif­er­a­tion ef­forts and transat­lantic ties. The two-year-old agree­ment, un­der which Iran agreed to freeze its nu­clear pro­gram for 15 years in ex­change for sanc­tions re­lief, is viewed in Europe as a rare tri­umph of in­ter­na­tional diplo­macy in the Mid­dle East.

As ten­sions over North Korea’s nu­clear ac­tiv­i­ties risk boil­ing over into all­out war, any move by the United States to un­der­mine the Iran deal is seen in Europe as ut­ter folly. Euro­pean cap­i­tals have been de­liv­er­ing this mes­sage to the White House and Congress in one of the most in­tense lob­by­ing cam­paigns in re­cent mem­ory. In the past weeks, Euro­pean am­bas­sadors have met dozens of US law­mak­ers. And on Tues­day, Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May lob­bied Trump by phone.

De­spite this, Trump is ex­pected de­clare this week that Iran is not com­ply­ing with the pact. He is also due to un­veil a tough new strat­egy to­wards Iran - in­clud­ing des­ig­nat­ing its Revo­lu­tion­ary Guards Corps as a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion - that could sink the deal. “If the feel­ing is the United States no longer sup­ports the agree­ment then the po­lit­i­cal re­al­ity is that the deal will be in se­ri­ous jeop­ardy and its im­ple­men­ta­tion will be very dif­fi­cult,” a se­nior French diplo­mat said. A de­ci­sion by Trump to de­cer­tify would not au­to­mat­i­cally kill the agree­ment, known as the Joint Com­pre­hen­sive Plan of Ac­tion (JCPOA). The ex­pec­ta­tion is that Trump would kick the ball to Congress, which would then have 60 days to de­cide whether to reim­pose sanc­tions lifted as part of the JCPOA.

Three-pronged re­sponse Euro­pean of­fi­cials said they were pre­par­ing a three­p­ronged strat­egy if this does oc­cur. First, Ber­lin, Lon­don and Paris would is­sue state­ments reaf­firm­ing their com­mit­ment to the deal. Sec­ond, they would re­dou­ble ef­forts to lobby Congress, which ap­pears keen to keep the deal, against any rash moves. And third, they would present mea­sures to pres­sure Iran over its bal­lis­tic mis­sile pro­gram and desta­bi­liz­ing poli­cies in the Mid­dle East-ar­eas that fall out­side the nar­rowly-fo­cused nu­clear deal. French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron al­luded to this at the United Na­tions last month. Diplo­mats said the pack­age was still in the works and they had not yet briefed Brus­sels on it.

With the third step, the Euro­peans hope to build a bridge to Wash­ing­ton while keep­ing the JCPOA in­tact. But a Ger­man diplo­mat said ratch­et­ing up pres­sure on Tehran was like walk­ing a tightrope: push too hard and the whole deal could fall apart. “We all knew the JCPOA wasn’t per­fect, but by call­ing its ben­e­fits into ques­tion I see us only los­ing,” said a se­nior Euro­pean diplo­mat who has been in­volved in ne­go­ti­a­tions with Iran since 2003, well be­fore Wash­ing­ton joined the talks un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

If Trump fol­lows through on his threats it will be the sec­ond time in four months that he has dis­tanced the United States from a ma­jor mul­ti­lat­eral agree­ment de­spite in­tense lob­by­ing by part­ners and mem­bers of his own cab­i­net. But in Europe, the Iran move would be seen as far more dam­ag­ing than Trump’s de­ci­sion in June to pull out of the Paris cli­mate ac­cord. “The threat from Iran in terms of nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion is more im­me­di­ate. This is far more dan­ger­ous,” said El­mar Brok, a vet­eran for­eign pol­icy ex­pert in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment and party ally of Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel.

Euro­pean of­fi­cials and an­a­lysts fear a break­down of the JCPOA could lead to an arms race in the Mid­dle East, a mil­i­tary con­flict be­tween Iran and Is­rael and an es­ca­la­tion of re­gional proxy wars be­tween Iran and Saudi Ara­bia. They fear it would also doom any chances, no mat­ter how slim, for a ne­go­ti­ated deal with North Korea.

All about war

“At the end of the day it’s all about the risk of war,” said Fran­cois Heis­bourg, chairman of the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute for Strate­gic Stud­ies. There is also the dan­ger of a fur­ther de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in transat­lantic ties, es­pe­cially if Wash­ing­ton tar­gets Euro­pean firms that do busi­ness in Iran. Were that to hap­pen, the EU am­bas­sador to Wash­ing­ton, David O’Sul­li­van, has said Brus­sels would re­vert to a 1990s-era law that shields Euro­pean com­pa­nies from ex­trater­ri­to­rial sanc­tions.

Even if the EU were to take such a step, the se­nior French diplo­mat said Euro­pean com­pa­nies could think twice about their Iran com­mit­ments. Among firms that have an­nounced big deals in Iran since the JCPOA went into force are plane­maker Air­bus, French en­ergy group To­tal and Ger­many’s Siemens. “One of the big dif­fi­cul­ties of the agree­ment is en­sur­ing the eco­nomic op­er­a­tors have con­fi­dence in the sys­tem and key to that is con­fi­dence in the United States,” the diplo­mat said.

Any signs that Euro­pean com­pa­nies are pulling back could prompt the Ira­ni­ans to re­assess the mer­its of the nu­clear deal. “The agree­ment with Iran is like a del­i­cate plant,” said Omid Nouripour, an Ira­nian-born law­maker with the Ger­man Greens party, which is ex­pected to be part of Merkel’s next coali­tion gov­ern­ment. “It is a sign of what diplo­macy can achieve but it is frag­ile. The Amer­i­can pres­i­dent doesn’t ap­pear to be­lieve in diplo­macy. He seems in­tent on crush­ing this plant.”

Col­lapse of deal could hit transat­lantic, Mideast ties

—AFP

TEHRAN: Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani at­tends a cab­i­net meet­ing yes­ter­day.

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