Gardiner Harris — New York Times Sept 25, 2017
After months of quietly urging the Trump administration to preserve the Iran nuclear deal, European diplomats have begun an aggressive defense of it, warning of serious consequences if the United States ignores their concerns.
President Trump denounced the nuclear agreement in a speech to the United Nations last week as an “embarrassment to the United States.” But he said later that his real goal is not to scrap the deal right away but to enlist the European allies who were also signatories of the 2015 agreement in an effort toughen its provisions.
Responding to his speech, Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said there was “no need to reopen the agreement because it’s fully delivering.” And she expressed the near-disbelief among European officials that Mr. Trump might walk away from the Iran accord while trying to resolve an escalating crisis involving North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
“We already have one potential nuclear crisis,” she said. “We definitely do not need to go into a second one.”
Preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons could be impossible should Mr. Trump decide to abandon the landmark deal struck by President Barack Obama and the leaders of Germany, France, Britain, China, Russia and Iran. And Europe is far closer to Iran and at much greater risk than the United States should it develop nuclear weapons.
On Monday, the ambassadors to the United States from Britain, France, Germany and the European Union met on a stage at the Atlantic Council in Washington to reinforce that message.
Gérard Araud, the French ambassador, said that it was not just the Europeans who refused to renegotiate but also Iran as well as China and Russia. Their position, he said, was, “‘No way. There won’t be any reopening of the agreement. The agreement is working as it is.’”
Should the United States end the agreement and attempt to penalize European companies doing business with Iran, David O’Sullivan, the European Union’s ambassador, said that Europe could respond with its own measures against the United States.
“I’ve no doubt that if this scenario materializes, the European Union will act to protect the legitimate interests of our companies,” he said.
For most of this year, Mr. Trump and America’s European allies have papered over stark differences on such issues as the Paris climate accord to preserve some semblance of Western unity.
But European officials say their patience with Mr. Trump may be nearing an end, and they view his possible abandonment of the Iran nuclear agreement as a potential breaking point.
“These problems are on our doorstep,” Kim Darroch, the British ambassador, said on Monday, adding: “These issues matter to us and to our national security more than you could imagine.”
Until recently, senior Trump administration officials had reassured their European counterparts that while a comprehensive review of Iran policy was underway, none thought that scrapping the nuclear deal would be a good idea, according to European officials and diplomats.
But in recent weeks, they have been told that Mr Trump had told advisers that he will likely refuse next month to certify to Congress that Iran is in compliance with the deal. In a meeting last week with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Mr Trump said he had made a decision on the deal but refused to disclose what he had settled on.
In a speech three weeks ago at a conservative think tank, Nikki Haley, the Trump administration’s ambassador to the United Nations, described in detail how and why such a decertification could occur. And she said that European concerns about such a strategy would not deter Mr Trump.
Decertifying the deal would give Congress 60 days under accelerated legislative provisions to vote to reimpose sanctions on Iran and any country doing business there.
Such a process would force Europe to accede to the Trump administration’s demands for fear that “powerful U.S. secondary sanctions and other instruments of financial power would force European banks and companies to choose between America’s $19 trillion-dollar market and Iran’s $400 billion one,” said Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a prominent critic of the Iran deal.
Critics of the nuclear deal want stronger limits on Iran’s ballistic missile program, an end to its support of proxy forces like Hezbollah and an extension of limits on Iran’s nuclear capabilities beyond the timeline set out in the accord.
But European diplomats said they have been suggesting for months ways to accomplish all of those goals and have been stymied by the Trump administration’s internal discord and ongoing Iran review.
“We are coming all the time to this administration with ideas and policies,” Mr. Darroch said.
Peter Wittig, the German ambassador, pointed out that when sanctions were first imposed on Iran over its nuclear ambitions, few American companies suffered because there was little trade between the United States and Iran.
“German companies have suffered billions and billions and billions of dollars,” Mr Wittig said.
Now, he said, trade with Iran could help moderate the country.
“We want Iran to gradually move to our values, to our worldview, and trade is an instrument,” he said.