With his unnecessary decision to unilaterally leave the Iran nuclear deal, US President Donald Trump showed that he has no will to maintain a common policy with his allies.
On May 8 US president Donald Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), under which Iran pledged to limit its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. In addition to the United States and Iran, the agreement was negotiated by China, Russia and the E3 (France, Germany, United Kingdom)/ the European Union (EU). The decision by president Trump to unilaterally leave the deal dismays all parties to the agreement raises global insecurity and leads to a widening rift in transatlantic relations.
There is no doubt that the JCPOA, a multilateral agreement unanimously endorsed by UNSC Resolution 2231, has been serving its purpose: to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. President Trump’s move to withdraw from the deal is dangerous and reckless, undermining the whole international regime against nuclear proliferation. His announcement to re-instate all nuclear-related sanctions previously lifted under JCPOA is deeply concerning. However, it is not in the hands of any single country to terminate the deal unilaterally. And the European Union is determined to preserve the deal.
Predictability and maintenance of agreements are key elements of multilateralism
The accord is one of the biggest diplomatic victories of recent years, a win-win solution for Iran and the international community, where everyone’s interests can find their own place. It is a matter of security for the Middle East, Europe and the rest of the world. The current global order is in disarray: confrontation seems to prevail over rationality and cooperation and the work of building a common ground among players with different views is being constantly undermined. In such a world, dialogue, respect and accountability are more important than ever.
However, it is not in the hands of any single country to terminate the deal unilaterally. And the European Union is determined to preserve the deal.
Our major interest is to keep Iran fully compliant with the JCPOA. The EU will continue implementing the JCPOA as long as Iran continues to abide by its commitments. For Iran, following questions are decisive: regarding economic, political and strategic dividends, is Iran better off with the deal or without? Can Iran expect that the interests of its people are assured? These are the aspects we Europeans, in addition to China and Russia need to focus on.
President Trump’s withdrawal already undermines Iranian moderates who staked their political capital on the conclusion and success of this deal. Thus, destroying the JCPOA only strengthens Iranian hardliners who advocate for re-initiating the nuclear program and for reinforcing Iran’s confrontational behaviour in the region. This could, in turn, lead to strong reactions in the region, possibly culminating in a war with Israel and Saudi Arabian nuclear armament. This runs contrary to what President Trump pretends to aim for. However, for each further conflict in the Middle East, Europe would probably bear the main part of the cost, not the US, for instance through an influx of refugees.
EU speaks with one voice and acts united to keep the deal alive
In the light of the above, the EU is determined to stay a credible partner that safeguards international norms. A political and economic commitment by Europe will help Iranian policymakers to justify restraint in the face of Trump’s withdrawal. In addition, it can facilitate the existing EU-Iran political dialogue on issues such as Iran’s ballistic missile program. This can reduce the growing risk of more violent confrontations and a nuclear arms race in the region. Also, the EU will make sure that the deal stays a win-win situation. Therefore, it is important that the lifting of nuclear related sanctions has a positive impact on trade and economic relations with Iran, including benefits for the Iranian people.
Considering the importance of the economic dividends, the Union is currently exploring options to provide incentives to Iran by using political and technical tools that protect companies from US secondary sanctions. We know that the penalties for breaking US sanctions can be steep. That is why we talk about concrete solutions related to, for example, the continued sale of Iran’s oil and gas products, effective banking transactions with Iran or the provision of export credits. In addition, we will activate the blocking statute from 1996 that aims to prevent the implementation of extraterritorial US sanctions in Europe, protects EU economic operators and ensures legal certainty.
President Trump’s reckless decision requires a clear answer
By unilaterally leaving the nuclear agreement with Iran, President Trump evidently showed that he has no will to maintain a common policy with his allies. He willingly disrespects one of the main principles of international cooperation: It is governments on behalf of their country that sign and honour international agreements, not individual politicians. Trump’s reckless decision is another attack against the multilateral order and puts transatlantic relations under additional strain. His decision therefore requires a clear and bold European answer: Activating the blocking regulations and developing a credible European strategy towards Iran, including a European financial institution that is independent from the USA. At the same time, Europe must link this with clear demands on Iran regarding its role in the region, its ballistic missiles programme and the unacceptable threats against Israel. Europe can now demonstrate that it is determined to safeguard stability in the Middle East and to preserve the security of Europe, its neighbours and international partners through joint action.