Europe Hopeful Trump Will Stick to Iran Deal

Europe Hopeful Trump Will Stick to Iran DealEurope Hopeful Trump Will Stick to Iran Deal

Senior European diplomats, fresh from conversations with US president-elect Donald Trump's transition team, are hopeful that the next US administration will not tear up the Iranian nuclear deal.

However, they are worried that Trump could pressure Iran in other ways that will unravel the agreement.

Seeking to strengthen their weak ties with Trump and his top team, the European Union and its leading governments have been sending top diplomats to Washington over the last couple of weeks for talks, even before Tuesday's announcement that Trump had picked Exxon Mobil Corp. Chief Executive Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The EU's top diplomat, Helga Schmid, held meetings in Washington on Nov. 21. Last week, political directors from the foreign ministries of the UK, France and Germany were in town for meetings with Obama administration officials and various members of Trump's team.

Among the top concerns of European governments is the July 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six powers, which included the US, France, Germany and Britain.

EU governments have repeatedly said the deal has worked so far. After Trump's election, they moved quickly to emphasize they intend to rapidly implement their side of the agreement.

The bloc is hoping to benefit from trade deals with Iran made possible by the agreement. The stakes are high for Europe: Many governments in the EU are already nervous that a Trump administration could challenge many of Europe's key foreign-policy positions, such as those on Russia and Syria.

***Cautious Optimism

During the presidential campaign, Trump lambasted the Iran agreement, threatening to tear it up if he got into office, although he has been quiet on the deal since his win. Now there is cautious optimism the deal will hold, according to several officials involved in or briefed on recent discussions in Washington.

There is a "growing sense that it would be a mistake to blow up the deal", said one senior European diplomat.

The diplomat said he was told by Trump transition officials that President Barack Obama had pressed Trump hard on the dangers of walking away from the Iran deal in at least two conversations. Trump "now understands that it would be irresponsible to disregard it".

Trump's transition team declined to comment on the discussions.

However, there is a growing concern that the Trump team could take actions that could imperil the nuclear deal. Under the agreement, most international energy, financial and economic sanctions on Iran were suspended in exchange for Iranian actions to significantly downgrade their nuclear program.

While nuclear-related sanctions were lifted on hundreds of Iranian companies, US and EU sanctions on other grounds, including over allegations of sponsoring terror and human rights abuses, were kept in place.

Trump officials have told European officials the nuclear deal gives them scope to place new terror- or rights-related sanctions on Iranian firms and people over Iran's actions in the region, which include backing for Lebanon's Hezbollah and support for the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

European officials acknowledge that there may be some scope for additional pressure on specific issues like Iranian ballistic-missile tests. The EU itself has also listed some Iranians under its own Syria sanctions regime.

However, they warn that any attempt to beef up US sanctions again, including relisting firms that had benefited from eased sanctions, could quickly lead Iran to take steps to ramp up their nuclear program.

"We could be very quickly out of the deal," said the diplomat. "It's pretty hard to get that message through."

***No New EU Bans

European diplomats have been clear that, if the US tears up the deal or takes actions that spark a crisis over it, the bloc will not feel obliged to put European sanctions back in place on Iran.

"We always knew we were going to have to navigate this thin line between … strict respect for the deal and … other things that you can do to Iran which do not infringe the deal," said a second senior European diplomat briefed on recent talks. "And I agree if we get that wrong, Iran could say you are acting in bad faith."

Dangers to the agreement are already emerging, even at a time when the United Nations' atomic agency, which oversees the deal's implementation, says both sides are largely complying.

Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has openly declared that if the US were to tear the nuclear deal, Iran will burn it.

Tehran has said the recent congressional decision to renew existing non-nuclear US sanctions represents a breach of the agreement, a view that western diplomats reject.

On Tuesday, in response to the US measure, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ordered his nuclear chief to begin development of a nuclear propeller system for ships. It also ordered the study of fuel production for the atomic propeller.

Many nuclear-powered ships use enriched uranium of a purity that Iran is not allowed to produce under the 2015 agreement. The White House said Tuesday's announcement of the plans did not run counter to the agreement.

Add new comment

Read our comment policy before posting your viewpoints