US, Europe dispute over Iran
Despite pressure President Trump expected to declare Tehran in violation of nuclear agreement
7 October, 2017
President Donald Trump is likely to wound the Iran nuclear deal by refusing to certify it, but he may stop short of unravelling the agreement by pushing US Congress to re-impose sanctions on Tehran. Trump is weighing whether the pact serves US security interests, a decision that could sink an agreement strongly supported by the other world powers that negotiated it. European states will do their best to sustain a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, amid stepped-up US opposition to the multilateral accord, a senior EU diplomat said.
The US president has the obligation to certify Iranian compliance with the deal every 90 days, and the next deadline is 15 October. If Trump decides to decertify the nuclear deal - formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) - Congress would have 60 days to decide whether to re-impose sanctions lifted by the 2015 deal in return for limits on Iran’s nuclear programme.
The US president has called the agreement one of America’s “worst and most one-sided transactions” ever. Because the UN nuclear watchdog has found Iran in compliance, it’s difficult for the US administration to say otherwise.
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on 20 September all parties to the Iran nuclear deal agree that the accord is being implemented as planned, and US complaints about other Iranian behaviour should be discussed outside the context of the agreement. Speaking then at the conclusion of a meeting of the parties to the 2015 deal, Mogherini told reporters the deal “is working and is delivering for its purpose.” She said the deal’s preservation is important at a critical time in the world.
European countries will do their utmost to preserve a deal limiting Iran’s nuclear programme, despite misgivings by US President Donald Trump, Helga Schmid, secretary general of the EU’s foreign policy service, told an Iranian investment conference in Switzerland on 4 October.
“The world does not need a second nuclear proliferation crisis. One is already too many,” she added in an apparent reference to Washington’s standoff with North Korea.
“We hope that President Trump will recertify the deal and that the US will continue to play a constructive and important role in the implementation of the JCPOA,” Nicholas Hopton, Britain’s ambassador to Iran, told a conference on 25 September, at which envoys from the EU, Germany, France and Britain laid out their arguments.
European lobbying efforts are now focused on Congress, which will have two months to decide – in the absence of Trump’s endorsement of the 2015 deal – whether to re-impose nuclear-related sanctions. Fresh sanctions could in turn trigger Iranian withdrawal and a ramping up of its now mostly latent nuclear programme, taking the Middle East back to the brink of another major conflict.
In a hearing on 3 October before the Senate Armed Services Committee, James Mattis, the secretary of defense - one of the most credible, measured and thoughtful member of the President's national security team - said he believes the deal struck by President Obama to prevent Iran from possessing nuclear weapons is in US best interest. He made clear that he believes one way to accomplish the goal is to keep the Iran deal in place.