The Trump administration’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal leaves the European Union with the difficult choice of continuing to trade with Iran to keep up its end of the accord but also faces the loss of doing business in the United States, the EU ambassador to Washington said Wednesday.
“I think Europe will live up to their commitment in the agreement,” as long as Iran does not resume its work on nuclear weapons. Daniel O’Sullivan said speaking at the Woodrow Wilson Center. He noted that the United Kingdom, France and Germany, for now, all part of the 28-member union, were signatories to the deal, along with Russia and China.
All have signaled a willingness to keep the terms of the agreement in place.
Lady Catherine Ashton, former vice president of the European Commission, said the agreement was unique because for the first time it brought all these nations working together on resolving a major international issue. With Trump’s decision, Russia, China, Germany, France and the United Kingdom “lose an incredibly important and vital partner” in keeping Iran from moving ahead with a nuclear weapons program to match its missile programs.
Secondary sanctions, a threat by the United States to use against any company or nation continuing to trade with Iran, “is going to be a critical issue.” Complicating the relations further is the administration’s laying out the possibility of imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum shipped from the continent to the United States.
O’Sullivan said several times during the Washington, D.C., forum that Iran expects an economic boost by opening up trade with other nations when it signed the agreement and lives by its literal terms.
If push comes to shove on secondary sanctions for dealing with Iran, “business will make business decisions … in its own best interests,” Ashton predicted. O’Sullivan said so-called blocking actions could be taken by the EU to protect those businesses.
By pulling out of the agreement because Iran is moving ahead with its ballistic and cruise missile programs, working surreptitiously to undermine governments in Yemen and other Gulf states, propping up the Syrian regime of Bashar al Assad and backing terrorists, “the U.S. is looking to change the terms of the deal,” O’Sullivan said.
The more realistic course to follow was to negotiate these other points separately and keep the original agreement in place, both said in slightly different ways.
O’Sullivan cited the recent visits by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Washington urging the United States to work with them to negotiate the other issues with Iran.
For all their differences over how to proceed with Iran and whether the American pullout of the nuclear agreement would have any impact on possible negotiations with the United States, the largest security concern for the Europeans remains Russia and what will be its next moves.
O’Sullivan described the EU’s and the United States’ relationship with Russia as being a “slightly schizophrenic attitude.”
On the one hand the Europeans and the United States “need to be tough and push back” against Russian aggression in Ukraine and Georgia by backing separatists in both nations and threatening other neighboring states on its western and southern borders.
Ashton added in those cases and Russia’s attempted assassination by poisoning of a former spy in the United Kingdom it was essential “we stand together [and say] that’s not acceptable” by beefing up security forces and raising the economic price on the Kremlin and its leaders through a series of ever-tougher sanctions.
Yet as this was going on, the EU and the United States did come together with Russia over an agreement with Iran on nuclear weapons and have worked together cooperatively in the Arctic, both diplomats agreed. O’Sullivan noted that Russia remains a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council with veto power over actions the Kremlin disagrees with and discussion on a broad range of issues between the West and Moscow were necessary to avoid misunderstanding that could lead to armed conflict.
The question for the Europeans is what will their relationship be in 20 to 25 years, Ashton said. For countries on Russia’s borders, other Europeans need to realize that there are long economic and political ties and deep family connections across frontiers. “It’s about people-to-people” in the long view of events, she said.