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European Allies Unclear on US Strategy After Withdrawal From Iran Deal

European Allies Unclear on US Strategy After Withdrawal From Iran Deal
U.S. President Donald Trump announces his decision to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in the Diplomatic Room at the White House May 8, 2018, in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

By Friday, 11 May 2018 12:41 PM Current | Bio | Archive

President Trump’s decision for the United States to withdraw from Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or Iran Nuclear Deal does not in some way revoke or rescind the deal that will continue to remain in effect among the signatories.

If we put aside that the refusal to adhere to the agreement is in violation of international law given that Iran has not been found in violation, what we see before us is a series of scenarios each of which will become more or less likely but which all depend on responses from countries around the world. In the first instance this means of course Iran where the signals have been mixed as to what course it will follow. But also of primary importance is the reaction of France, the UK, and Germany.

Even though the decision was anticipated the frank and persistent objections delivered by “The three M's”: Macron, Merkel, and May left some hope that a way would be found to round out the angles, meaning allowing the U.S. to put the Deal into question without a formal withdrawal and then act to reinforce it.

And then in the short few days after the announcement was made on May 8 what we witnessed from European politicians and the media are two very clear conclusions:

One is that although this is a mistake, everything must be done to assure that the agreement doesn’t collapse and that Iran not restart its nuclear program.

Two is that America’s use of political and moreover economic power in enforcing the renewal of the sanctions risks stifling European economic interests.

The context in which these issues are being raised is that Europe is experiencing a major let down, considering that America is abandoning multilateralism in favor of a do-it-alone American foreign policy.

Europeans remind Americans that the 20th century world wars were won not by America alone but by America and its allies. When differences did arise, as they do almost always among allies, they were resolved amicably. The almost uniform opinion in Europe is that the surest way forward to defeat Iranian export of terrorism and missile development is, as was decided by the international consensus that gave rise to the Deal, through restraining nuclear development with the most stringent inspections that have so far been imposed on any one nation.

Now that years of work to reach an agreement have reached fruition, the next step had to be insistence on its respect which would then enable further concerted action to attack Iranian support for terrorism and missile development. All agreements have in common that neither side is pleased with every provision. Nothing in the existing agreement prevents sanctions against the regime if after strong diplomatic activity Iran continues to export terrorism. Trump’s campaign to highlight Iran’s bad behavior did mobilize his friends in Europe and especially Emmanuel Macron to work fervently toward new constraints. This is because there is not one country in NATO that minimize the Iranian danger.

The consensus is that the best way forward is not to weaken the coalition but to reinforce it.

As Boris Johnson, British Foreign Secretary, states: “Let's not break the handcuffs; let’s strengthen them.”

The emotion underlying European opinion is revealed in an article appearing in the French newspaper Le Figaro:

“May 8th is the national holiday commemorating the Allies victory against Nazi Germany in Europe in 1945, May 9th is the Day of Europe. To that double celebration Donald Trump has added a black mark, the day when America turned its back on Europe, humiliated its three most important allies in NATO and put in danger the work of three generations to eliminate the nuclear peril."

A significant problem for Europeans is that the U.S. invocation of sanctions does not simply mean that the U.S. will no longer respect the nuclear agreement. The presidential order extends to the imposition of penalties in the event companies anywhere in the world decide to in some way bypass the U.S. imposition of sanctions and resume business with Iran. Almost all companies engaged in significant international business with Iran also do business in the U.S., and often are publicly listed on U.S. markets. This allows the U.S. uniquely to exercise jurisdiction and impose penalties over these companies. The outcry therefore is also against what critics see as the overreach of U.S. economic and judicial power.

The European press has spent tons of ink trying to explain how it could be that the U.S. instead of using even a less than perfect agreement as a springboard for further concerted efforts to hem in Iran has simply backed out of what until now has at the very least allowed some visibility over any Iranian attempt to revive its nuclear program.

The bottom line conclusion, in attempting this analysis, is that Donald Trump believes that the best way to achieve peace is through force. His inclination is to consider that compromise and consensus do not work and have not worked with Iran. The country’s present economic hardship needs to worsen before the country comes to its senses and accepts a new agreement.

This view is not all that different from John Bolton’s analysis that Trump’s negotiating tactic is very often first to use power and then in a second instance negotiate from the position of strength. The more favorable attitude of Kim-Jong un is a perfect example of how a favorable negotiation situation can evolve from in the first instance a forceful positioning of U.S. power.

What however is most perturbing to Europeans, as perceived by a review of press opinion and political statements, is that it may be that force will work. It may be that Iran will cave in. It may be that the term of the existing agreement is left as is might nuclear bomb development after its expiration. It may be that further efforts to constrain Iran won’t work.

But the eventualities that can be listed are all speculative. They don’t arise from any concerted action that the Unites States can take or any policy going forward that has been explained by the U.S. government foreign policy apparatus or has been explained to U.S. allies.

In other words we are left with unsettled and uncomfortable feeling that Donald Trump has exercised his power to opt out of the agreement but has no plan B, no plan forward.

A shot has been taken in the dark without any assurance that the target will be hit. And shots without a plan can bring all sorts of consequences including increased tensions, and, as we are witnessing this very day, a heightened risk of war in the region with Iranian positioning for attacks against Israel.

Also we expect the European Union and individual European governments to enact laws prohibiting their nationals from respecting a boycott of Iran, thus setting the stage for serious European-U.S. legal and political friction.

Mark L. Cohen has his own legal practice, and was counsel at White & Case starting in 2001, after serving as international lawyer and senior legal consultant for the French aluminum producer Pechiney. Cohen was a senior consultant at a Ford Foundation Commission, an advisor to the PBS television program "The Advocates," and Assistant Attorney General in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He teaches U.S. history at the business school in Lille l’EDHEC. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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President Trump’s decision for the United States to withdraw from Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or Iran Nuclear Deal does not in some way revoke or rescind the deal that will continue to remain in effect among the signatories.
iran deal, trump, europe
Friday, 11 May 2018 12:41 PM
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