Trump’s Approach Undermines Viability of Diplomacy

Catherine Ashton says Trump’s deal-breaking stance has called into question the credibility of international treaties and risks backfiring.Catherine Ashton says Trump’s deal-breaking stance has called into question the credibility of international treaties and risks backfiring.

EU’s former top diplomat and coordinator of nuclear negotiations leading to the Iran deal, Catherine Ashton, warned that the US antagonistic approach could deal a major setback to global diplomacy.

“Without confidence in the long-term viability of a deal, diplomacy stands little chance,” Ashton wrote in an article published by Prospect on Monday, referring to the 2015 nuclear accord the previous US administration and the other five powers negotiated with Iran.

As the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Ashton represented the bloc in the decade-long on-off nuclear talks with Iran for five years until 2014, when she was replaced by Federica Mogherini.

A year later, in July 2015, the negotiations produced a deal to remove sanctions against the Islamic Republic in exchange for temporary curbs on its nuclear program.                                       

But US President Donald Trump has railed against the multiparty agreement since taking office in January and has drawn the ire of other signatories, including Washington's main European allies, by calling for its revision or termination.

"As the US’s 2016 election approached, most observers assumed that pragmatic reality would set in a few minutes after a new president was sworn in, even a Republican one.  A deal that was working and delivering wouldn’t so easily be thrown away," Ashton said.

"Then came President Trump. Despite the clear evidence of the IAEA [the UN nuclear agency] inspectors that Iran is sticking to its side of the deal, he is determined to change the agreement—threatening to pull out of it if he doesn’t get his way."

Ashton said Trump's deal-breaking stance has called into question the credibility of international treaties and risks backfiring.

"This raises distinct problems for diplomacy in general and US diplomacy in particular. All forms of collaboration have just become harder. Any nation or non-state actor will now think twice before doing a deal with the US," she said.

The veteran diplomat cited the Middle East's crises, the Ukraine conflict and North Korean missile and nuclear dispute, as among issues whose resolution hinges heavily on promoting a genuine sense of trust in diplomatic agreements.

"For example, Europe and the US have worked together closely and continue to do so on issues from Yemen to Libya. China’s role in bringing North Korea to a more constructive position is something the US has been pushing for. [During the Iran negotiations, North Korean diplomats made visits to Brussels to find out more about how it was being done. They weren’t the only ones.] A solution to Ukraine will rely on Russia being prepared to reach some form of agreement," Ashton said.

"These are all tricky issues, which will require some compromise if they are to be solved by diplomacy. All sides need to be sure that tomorrow’s benefits will outweigh today’s concessions."

Explaining the other consequences of the US administration's anti-deal stance, Ashton said it is playing into the hands of the deal's critics in Iran by dimming the hopes for reviving an economy battered by years of sanctions.

"There were many voices inside the country, wanting President Rouhani to take a much harder line. They said the US could never be trusted. They thought that Iran would dismantle its facilities and then find that they had been betrayed. President Trump has reinforced their views," she wrote.

"Although the Iran deal is not yet undone, there is an immediate chilling effect on the most vital part of the deal from Iran’s point of view. Its driving motivation for making and sticking to the deal, I would argue, was to strengthen their economy. Removing the sanctions allowed Iran to get hold of its assets and for trade and investment to develop. Instead, many companies who might be considering investment, or wanting to trade with Iran, are now holding back."

Ashton noted that Trump's bellicose approach has blighted the prospects of engagement with Iranians to settle the issues of contention other than the nuclear matter.

"It is also bad news for the US. It risks cutting off any chance of talking with Iran about other issues about which it has real concerns. Let us hope congress helps president Trump to think again."

With Trump decertifying Iran in mid-October, the congress is facing a two-month deadline to come up with a decision whether to restore nuclear sanctions.

The reimposition of sanctions could, in effect, strike a fatal blow to the UN-endorsed deal.  

Trump has threatened to end the US participation in the deal if congress and the European allies of the US fail to introduce new provisions to the pact requiring Tehran to rein in its missile and regional activities, which issues are totally unrelated to the nuclear deal.

Officials in Tehran and other signatories to the deal, except the US, argue that the deal is finalized and have ruled out considering a renegotiation.


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