Can it defy Trump on Iran?

The Week (US) - - 14 News -

Europe is de­ter­mined to save the Iran nu­clear deal, said in Público (Por­tu­gal). It’s the only way to pre­vent a nu­clear arms race in the Mid­dle East—or an­other war. U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ap­palled his Euro­pean al­lies last week when he de­cided to pull out of the 2015 pact, which lifted sanc­tions on Tehran in ex­change for curbs to its nu­clear pro­gram, and his ad­min­is­tra­tion in­fu­ri­ated them with threats to sanc­tion Euro­pean firms that con­tinue do­ing busi­ness with Iran. By tram­pling the fruits of painstak­ing diplo­macy, Trump has shown Euro­peans that the U.S. can no longer be trusted from one pres­i­den­tial elec­tion to the next. Ev­ery­thing is now “short-term, and a sig­na­ture on an in­ter­na­tional treaty is worth the same as a tweet.” It is “im­pos­si­ble to over­state what Trump has dis­man­tled,” said Klaus Brinkbäumer in Der Spiegel (Ger­many). By pulling out of the Iran deal—and the Paris cli­mate accord—he has tor­pe­doed 70 years’ worth of transAt­lantic trust and co­op­er­a­tion. The loss is dis­ori­ent­ing for a Europe that has long re­lied on the “pro­tec­tive power” of Amer­ica, and it is forc­ing a reck­on­ing. Until Trump is out of of­fice, Europe must lead a “re­sis­tance against Amer­ica.”

Such lofty lan­guage is all well and good, said Alexan­dra Sa­viana in Mar­i­anne (France), but re­sist how ex­actly? French Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bruno Le Maire says Europe won’t be “a vas­sal that obeys and jumps to at­ten­tion.” It will con­duct its own foreign pol­icy, he vowed, and up­hold the Iran deal. Yet if the U.S. makes good on its threat to sanc­tion Euro­pean firms that keep do­ing busi­ness with Tehran, French firms could lose big. Oil gi­ant To­tal has a $1.5 bil­lion con­tract to ex­ploit Iran’s South Pars, the largest nat­u­ral gas field in the world. Air­bus has con­tracts with Iran Air worth $27 bil­lion. Ger­many’s Siemens and Italy’s state rail firm FS have also inked big deals with Tehran. These com­pa­nies are now trapped “be­tween the ham­mer and the anvil”: ei­ther they keep trad­ing with Iran and get hit with U.S. sanc­tions, or they “stop and lose all of their in­vest­ments.”

Euro­pean Union of­fi­cials have been meet­ing with the Ira­ni­ans this week and toss­ing around op­tions for pro­tect­ing busi­nesses, said Mau­r­izio Ricci in La Repub­blica (Italy). But none of them are good. The eas­i­est route is to beg the U.S. for ex­cep­tions to sec­ondary sanc­tions, as we did when Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton em­bar­goed Cuba. Trump won’t go for that. Some of­fi­cials have proposed re­im­burs­ing com­pa­nies for the U.S. fines they in­cur. But the sums could soon es­ca­late out of reach—French bank BNP Paribas had to pay $9 bil­lion in 2014 to set­tle U.S. sanc­tion vi­o­la­tions. The most rad­i­cal idea is to have the Euro­pean Cen­tral Bank cre­ate a new arm to han­dle all Ira­nian trade, in eu­ros. That “would al­most be a dec­la­ra­tion of war” against the dol­lar, which, as the only truly global cur­rency, is guar­an­teed to pre­vail. “Iso­lat­ing Amer­ica po­lit­i­cally is dif­fi­cult. Iso­lat­ing it eco­nom­i­cally, im­pos­si­ble.”

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