Trump slaps Europe in the face with Iran deal pull-out

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) talks to French President Emmanuel Macron (R) and US President Donald J. Trump (C) at the beginning of the plenary session of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, 7 July 2017. [Felipe Trueba/EPA/EFE]

In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s announcement to withdraw from a landmark deal curbing Iran’s nuclear programme, the leaders of Britain, France and Germany who signed the agreement published a joint statement saying they will continue to stick by it.

President Donald Trump pulled out from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA), the official name of the 2015 deal curbing Iran’s nuclear on Tuesday (8 May), defying European pleas and prompting international outcry.

Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran deal drew comparisons with his move last June to pull out from the Paris climate agreement. Similarly, the European reaction to continue with the Paris deal bears resemblance with the vow to forge ahead with the Iran deal.

Angry Europe vows to defend climate pact after Trump pullout

European leaders reacted with anger and defiance after President Donald Trump yesterday (1 June) announced the United States, the world’s second biggest carbon emitter, was quitting the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The big difference however is that this time the US prepares to slam heavy sanctions on its allies who are doing business in Iran. Another aspect is the toxic effect of this announcement for the Middle East, the EU’s backyard.

Trump poured scorn on the “disastrous” accord, describing it as an “embarrassment” to the United States that does nothing to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“I am announcing today that the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal,” Trump said in an address to the nation from the White House.

Slapping aside more than a decade and a half of careful diplomacy by Britain, China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia and past US administrations, Trump called for a “new and lasting deal.”

That grand bargain, he said, would have to include not just deeper restrictions on Iran’s nuclear programme, but on its ballistic missiles and support for militant groups across the Middle East.

“We cannot prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb under the decaying and rotten structure of the current agreement,” he claimed.

“We will not allow American cities to be threatened with destruction and we will not allow a regime that chants ‘Death to America’ to gain access to the most deadly weapons on Earth.”

It remains far from clear if the international community, or Iran, will play along.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani — whose standing at home now risks being undermined by the deal’s collapse — was furious, accusing Trump of “psychological warfare”.

Trump’s onerous demands and his warning that Iranians deserve better than their current “dictatorship” will only heighten suspicions his ultimate goal is regime change.

“If the regime continues its nuclear aspirations, it will have bigger problems than it has ever had before,” he warned.

Foreign adventures

Hawkish US officials believe that after 38 years in power, Iran’s clerical regime is substantially weakened by domestic economic pressure, changing demography, public demonstrations, and costly foreign military adventures.

The decision marked a stark diplomatic defeat for Europe, whose leaders, repeatedly and in person, begged the mercurial US leader to think again.

Merkel makes last ditch effort to save Iran nuclear deal

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday (2 May) that the nuclear deal with Iran should not be cancelled but its negotiating framework needed to be broadened.

In a joint statement, Germany’s Angela Merkel, Britain’s Theresa May and France’s Emmanuel Macron voiced their “regret and concern” at Trump’s decision.

European firms doing business in Iran now have a six month deadline to wind up investments, or risk US sanctions, Trump’s hawkish advisor John Bolton warned, while ruling out talk of reconsideration.

“We’re out of the deal. We’re out of the deal. We’re out of the deal,” he said.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement that the nuclear deal “is not a bilateral agreement and it is not in the hands of any single country to terminate it unilaterally”.

She said she was “particularly worried” by the announced new sanctions.

“I will consult with all our partners in the coming hours and days to assess their implications. The European Union is determined to act in accordance with its security interests and to protect its economic investments.”

Washington’s new ambassador to Berlin, Richard Grenell, said on Twitter: “US sanctions will target critical sectors of Iran’s economy. German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately.”

And Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin made it clear that Washington was acting “under both our primary and secondary sanctions authorities,” meaning that European firms with investments or operations in the United States could be targeted if they continue to trade with Iran.

In a sign of the depth of European displeasure, plans are already being drawn up in Brussels to introduce measures blocking US sanctions, an extremely rare move against an allied government.

While Iran’s arch foes in Israel and Saudi Arabia welcomed Trump’s decision, signatories to the existing deal vowed to plow ahead without the United States.

Trump’s decision offers him a domestic political victory, fulfilling a longstanding campaign promise and underscoring his no nonsense political brand.

‘Bold decision’

But the long term impact for American foreign policy and for the Middle East was less clear.

Former US president Barack Obama — whose administration inked the deal — made a rare public criticism of his successor, describing Trump’s decision to abandon the Iran nuclear deal as “misguided” and a “serious mistake.”

“The consistent flouting of agreements that our country is a party to risks eroding America’s credibility, and puts us at odds with the world’s major powers.”

In contrast, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who last week released a trove of intelligence on a pre-2003 Iranian plan to develop a nuclear weapon which Trump cited approvingly in his speech, was overjoyed.

“Israel fully supports President Trump’s bold decision today to reject the disastrous nuclear deal,” Netanyahu said, in a televised address.

Shortly after, Syrian state media reported nine pro-government fighters were killed in an Israeli missile strike near Damascus, where Iranian proxies are known to operate.

Israel had already opened bomb shelters and put the military on high alert in case of attack from the Iranian forces deployed in Syria in defence of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Impact on oil prices

Energy industry insiders say Trump’s tough stance on Iran will probably keep oil prices higher than they would otherwise be.

The European Commission was unable yesterday to answer questions how would higher oil prices impact on the European economies.

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