Trump nukes Europe’s Iranian dreams

Trump holds the document reinstating sanctions against Iran | Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Trump nukes Europe’s Iranian dreams

More than a generation of European leaders and diplomats were engaged in the talks at one time or another.


5/9/18, 12:28 AM CET

Updated 5/10/18, 8:50 AM CET

BERLIN — Europe’s leaders insist their opposition to killing the Iran nuclear deal is all about preserving peace. Truth be told, it’s also about something just as important — pride.

Negotiated over a decade plus, more than a generation of European leaders and diplomats were engaged in the talks at one time or another. Whether one had a seat at the head table or stood on the fringes, bragging rights over the success of the accord were spread far and wide.

Everyone from former EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to German President Frank Walter Steinmeier, who helped negotiate the deal when he was foreign minister, have shared in the glory.

Though President Donald Trump and other American critics of the deal link it primarily to the Obama administration, Europeans see it as their own. Indeed, in European foreign policy circles, the deal was considered the most significant achievement of European diplomacy in living memory.

Initially spearheaded by negotiators from France, Germany and the U.K., the pact showed European statecraft at its best.

Skeptics of Europe’s motives have long suggested Berlin and Paris in particular were driven by economic motives, the desire to exploit an emerging economy of more than 80 million. And who can forget the spectacle of then-German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel landing in Tehran with a business delegation before the ink on the deal had even dried to rub elbows with the country’s mullahs.

Such displays aside, Iran was never primarily about the pursuit of economic opportunity for Europe, but rather the promotion of peace and European prestige.

Martin Schulz, the former European Parliament president, called it a “history-making achievement” at the time, singling out the contribution of Europe’s diplomats.

It’s easy to see why Europeans were so enamored with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the agreement is officially known: It is ambitious, hugely complex and focused on the EU’s raison d’être — the promotion of peace.

In the days and weeks that followed the breakthrough in negotiations, few European politicians took the objections about the deal voiced by Israel and critics in the U.S. seriously. Peace in the Middle East was nigh, the Europeans insisted.

The compromise proved that “solutions to dangerous conflicts can be found at the negotiating table,” Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Liberals in the European Parliament, declared after the deal was announced.

That Trump, who both in style and substance violates every diplomatic convention Europeans hold dear, was the one to pull the plug on the Iran deal makes its doom all the more bitter for Europe. Some were unwilling to accept what has happened.

“Maybe, just maybe, we Europeans shouldn’t give the narcissist-in-chief so much attention and actually focus on what we can do so salvage the #JCPOA without the US in it,” Nathalie Tocci, an adviser to EU foreign policy head Federica Mogherini, tweeted.

Particularly galling for Europe’s leadership is that Trump’s move offers yet another reminder of how dependent the Continent is on Washington. Though every major European power and the EU opposed canceling the deal, they were powerless to stop it.

The recent pilgrimages to Washington by Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel appear to have failed to even temper Trump’s plans on Iran.

The joint statement put out by France, Germany and the U.K. on Wednesday offers little more than confirmation of that helplessness.

“We emphasise our continuing commitment to the JCPoA,” they wrote, as if the deal could survive without the U.S.

As Trump made clear with Merkel at his side last month, Europe needs the U.S. more than the U.S. needs Europe, both economically and in terms of security.

Or as Trump might say, he has Europe over a barrel.

That’s why once the cacophony of shock and horror across the Continent subsides in the coming days over Trump’s latest affront, Europe will revert to type and do what it always does when challenged by the U.S. — nothing.

Matthew Karnitschnig 

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