Euro­peans look for ways to hold Iran to nu­clear deal

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY AUSTIN DAVIS

BER­LIN | Eu­rope’s lead­ing pow­ers aren’t wait­ing for Pres­i­dent Trump’s May 12 dead­line to de­cide whether the U.S. is with­draw­ing from the Iran nu­clear deal and are cook­ing up con­tin­gency plans to keep the agree­ment with Tehran afloat.

With China and Rus­sia vow­ing to sup­port the agree­ment, Amer­ica’s lead­ing Euro­pean al­lies have a lot rid­ing on the suc­cess of the deal. An Amer­i­can de­par­ture from the pact — and the pos­si­ble reim­po­si­tion of U.S. sanc­tions on com­pa­nies that do busi­ness with the Is­lamic repub­lic — would likely dam­age Eu­rope’s eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal re­la­tions with Tehran and in­crease in­sta­bil­ity in the Mid­dle East.

Many note that Eu­rope — un­like the U.S. — would be well within range of nu­clear-tipped Ira­nian bal­lis­tic mis­siles if Tehran re­sumes nu­clear pro­grams that are curbed un­der the 2015 deal ne­go­ti­ated with the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

But the ex­tent to which na­tions in­clud­ing Ger­many, France and Bri­tain can con­tain the fall­out from a U.S. with­drawal is the sub­ject of ner­vous un­cer­tainty.

“They have limited lever­age and cards to play,” said El­lie Ger­an­mayeh, a se­nior pol­icy fel­low with the Euro­pean Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions. “But if they re­sign to just watch­ing the deal fall apart, that will burn any in­flu­ence that they have with Iran to be able to mod­er­ate its re­ac­tion on the nu­clear is­sue.”

Since tak­ing of­fice, Mr. Trump has re­peat­edly re­ferred to the Obama-era deal to lift in­ter­na­tional eco­nomic sanc­tions on Iran in ex­change for re­stric­tions on Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram as a “bad deal” with “ter­ri­ble flaws.”

Even so, the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency, the party that over­sees the deal, has said over the course of 11 re­ports since 2015 that Iran is ad­her­ing to the stip­u­la­tions of the ar­range­ment to de­crease nu­clear stock­piles and en­rich ura­nium only for peace­ful pur­poses.

Euro­pean, Chi­nese and Rus­sian com­pa­nies have rou­tinely been vis­it­ing Tehran on trade mis­sions seek­ing deals and part­ners as a mar­ket with 82 mil­lion con­sumers re­joins the world econ­omy. But rel­a­tively few big deals have been nailed down given the con­tin­u­ing le­gal and fi­nan­cial un­cer­tain­ties hang­ing over the nu­clear ac­cord since Mr. Trump’s elec­tion.

Crit­ics say Iran’s ad­her­ence to the let­ter of the agree­ment has been over­shad­owed by Tehran’s con­tin­ued in­volve­ment in messy con­flicts across the Mid­dle East. Mr. Trump sees the ac­tions as a vi­o­la­tion of the spirit of the agree­ment.

Seek­ing a deal ‘fix’

The White House now faces a May 12 dead­line on whether to once again waive U.S. sanc­tions on Iran. Mike Pom­peo, the for­mer CIA di­rec­tor nom­i­nated to be sec­re­tary of state, told his Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing last week that Mr. Trump hopes the Euro­pean al­lies will help “fix” the agree­ment so the U.S. does not have to with­draw to­tally. Among the fixes: push off “sun­set” pro­vi­sions in the deal, open more Ira­nian re­search and mil­i­tary sites to in­ter­na­tional in­spec­tors, and ad­dress Iran’s be­hav­ior in ar­eas out­side the nu­clear sphere.

“I’ve heard [Mr. Trump] say his goal is to take the three short­com­ings and fix them,” Mr. Pom­peo told the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee.

The specter of a U.S. with­drawal prompted a chill­ing re­sponse from Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani at Iran’s Na­tional Nu­clear Tech­nol­ogy Day last week.

“Iran will not vi­o­late the nu­clear deal, but if the United States with­draws from the deal, they will surely re­gret it,” he said. “Our re­sponse will be stronger than what they imag­ine and would see that within a week.”

The sit­u­a­tion presents eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal chal­lenges for the deal’s Euro­pean part­ners, France, Ger­many and Bri­tain, all of which op­pose U.S. ef­forts to un­der­mine the deal.

Euro­pean lead­ers want Mr. Trump to de­cide to stay with the Iran deal be­fore tack­ling other geopo­lit­i­cal is­sues that worry the White House, such as Tehran’s in­volve­ment in Syria and Ye­men.

Ger­man parts man­u­fac­turer Daim­ler and French au­tomaker Peu­geot had planned big in­vest­ments in Iran.

The Bourse & Bazaar web­site, which tracks Iran’s econ­omy and busi­ness cli­mate, cited Aus­trian news ac­counts last month that Ober­bank, one of the first West­ern banks to ne­go­ti­ate a fi­nanc­ing deal with Iran af­ter the sign­ing of the nu­clear ac­cord, has put a highly touted $1.2 bil­lion line of credit on hold in­def­i­nitely be­cause of the un­cer­tainty.

An­other threat to Eu­rope’s big plans for rap­proche­ment with Iran is the push by key U.S. al­lies Is­rael and Saudi Ara­bia to scut­tle the deal.

“I am 100 per­cent cer­tain that Iran has never aban­doned its mil­i­tary nu­clear vi­sion for a sin­gle in­stant,” Yossi Co­hen, head of Is­rael’s Mos­sad in­tel­li­gence agency, said in leaked com­ments from a re­cent closed meet­ing of top Is­raeli of­fi­cials. “This deal en­ables Iran to achieve that vi­sion.”

Eco­nomic and strate­gic in­ter­ests are widen­ing the di­vide be­tween Eu­rope and the U.S. over the ben­e­fits of the Iran deal, an­a­lysts say.

“In the wake of the nu­clear deal, we’ve seen some glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of Iran by the Euro­pean side that’s been eco­nom­i­cally and po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated, whereas with the U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion un­der Trump, we’ve seen a re­turn to the de­mo­niza­tion of Iran,” said Ali Fathol­lah-Ne­jad, a vis­it­ing fel­low with the Brook­ings Doha Cen­ter in Qatar. “Both nar­ra­tives are ex­treme and in­ad­e­quate. The truth lies some­where in the mid­dle.”

Mr. Pom­peo and new White House Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser John R. Bolton are long­time crit­ics of the Iran deal, Mr. Ger­an­mayeh said.

“They take a very dif­fer­ent po­si­tion from the Euro­peans on Iran, which is to say you can’t cut any deals and it’s all about con­tain­ment and con­fronta­tion,” she said. “The Euro­peans have had a much dif­fer­ent his­tory with Iran and have had diplo­matic re­la­tions with Iran for the past 40 years.”

Build­ing a ‘fire­wall’

With eco­nomic and diplo­matic in­ter­ests on the line, Euro­pean play­ers are try­ing to de­velop a strat­egy to get the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to halt its plan to quit the deal.

Though Ger­man For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Heiko Maas called for a “fire­wall” to be erected be­tween the nu­clear deal and Iran’s other ac­tiv­i­ties as early as last week, Eu­rope and the United States have been hold­ing high­level talks since Jan­uary to re­in­state some sanc­tions on Iran for its med­dling in re­gional con­flicts in re­turn for a guar­an­tee that the nu­clear deal re­main in place.

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel and French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron will visit Wash­ing­ton at the end of the month. The nu­clear deal is ex­pected to be a key is­sue on the agenda.

“The Euro­pean strat­egy is twofold,” said Mr. Fathol­lah-Ne­jad. “One is to talk about and pos­si­bly also take ac­tion on ar­eas of con­cern un­der Trump. Sec­ond, it’s to lay the ground­work for se­cur­ing Euro­pean eco­nomic in­ter­ests in Iran.”

If Euro­pean part­ners can’t per­suade Mr. Trump to stay in the deal, they will try to jockey for an ar­range­ment that would at least al­low Tehran to strike eco­nomic deals with the Euro­peans, the Rus­sians and the Chi­nese in ways that would in­clude Iran ad­her­ing to its nu­clear obli­ga­tions, said Mr. Ger­an­mayeh.

“In my view, that would be the best-case sce­nario, be­cause you keep the deal alive and you al­low the U.S. to come back in when there’s a more am­i­ca­ble ad­min­is­tra­tion, all the while keep­ing Iran tied to its nu­clear com­mit­ments,” he said.

Even so, there is the risk that the U.S. de­par­ture from the pact could un­der­mine the nu­clear con­trols en­tirely, rais­ing the risk of Ira­nian nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion in the re­gion and in­creas­ing the chance of tar­geted strikes by Is­rael, the United States and oth­ers on Ira­nian fa­cil­i­ties.

“We’d es­sen­tially go back to the pre-2013 dy­namic of very high risks of mil­i­tary con­flict over this is­sue,” said Mr. Ger­an­mayeh. “And that’s ex­actly what the Euro­peans have been try­ing to avoid for the last decade.”

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