Trump and Iran Europe Stuck Between a Bomb and a Hard Place

With U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to violate the Iran nuclear agreement, Europe finds itself facing an almost unsolvable diplomatic challenge: It must save the Iran deal while avoiding open confrontation with Washington.

U.S. President Donald Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump

A Commentary by

Now, it is up to Europe. U.S. President Donald Trump has decided to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran in the most brusque possible manner. There is no waiting period, no attempts at mitigation. The marching orders are clear: the greatest confrontation possible.

For Europe, the stakes are enormous. It is no longer merely about ensuring that Iran doesn't get the bomb. Rather, the world is faced with an uncontrolled, global nuclear arms race. The already tenuous stability in the Middle East is likewise in grave danger. And finally, Europe is facing the potential loss of what has been the most important, most reliable and most beneficial constant of European foreign policy for decades: the partnership with the U.S. and the trans-Atlantic relationship.

The U.S. has chosen a path of confrontation with Europe. Neither Macron's advances nor Merkel's sternness were able to prevent Trump from taking this step. In the seven decades of the postwar trans-Atlantic relationship, there has never been such a violation of European interests, never such deep-seated discord. When France and Germany elected not to follow U.S. President George W. Bush into Iraq in 2003, the dissent came within the framework of an intact partnership. It was a serious disagreement, to be sure, but it didn't threaten the foundation of the relationship.

This time, it is different. This conflict has the potential to escalate into a real confrontation between Europe and the United States. In a worst-case scenario, Trump could force Europe to make a choice between the U.S. and Iran. If you're not with us, you are against us.

Europe finds itself facing a diplomatic challenge that is almost impossible to solve. On the one hand, Europeans must seek to prevent the Americans from further escalation. On the other, they are tasked with convincing Iran not to give up on the deal themselves.

The Vital Interests of Germany and Europe

To do so, European leaders must first agree with the nuclear deal's remaining signatories - Russia and China - on what steps must now be taken to keep Iran on board. Europe cannot allow itself to be used by Trump to isolate Iran. On the contrary, Europe must make it clear to Washington that the U.S. is isolating itself on this issue. There is a global community that wants this agreement - and there is an American president who is, with support from Israel and Saudi Arabia, seeking to torpedo it.

It is in the vital interests of Germany and Europe that Iran continues to adhere to the treaty. If it doesn't, the consequences could be dramatic: It is likely that not just Iran would seek to arm itself with nuclear weapons, but also other powers in the region like Saudi Arabia or Egypt. It would mark the de facto end of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The entire system established to control the spread of nuclear weapons would be in danger.

The danger would be no less great if Israel or the U.S. were to launch military strikes in an attempt to prevent Iran from continuing its nuclear program. The risk of military escalation in such a case would be significant, with Tehran potentially responding with attacks carried out by its proxies against Israel or against American troops based in the region. Furthermore, Iran has placed many of its nuclear facilities underground, making them much more difficult to destroy than, for example, the Syrian reactor bombed by Israel in 2007.

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On the weekend prior to Trump's decision, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made clear just how important Europe's reaction would be. It wasn't Trump's decision that would be decisive, he said, but "whether the Europeans distance themselves from his stance or not."

Protecting European Companies

Europe, Russia and China must now make an offer to Iran. That is the only way to help reformers in Tehran stand up to hardliners in the country who would like to continue building a bomb. Thus far, Iran has adhered to the agreement even though many of the economic benefits the country had hoped to reap from the deal have failed to materialize. Now, it will be important to prevent European companies from pulling out of Iran.

That, though, will be difficult. Trump has threatened companies with punitive measures should they continue doing business in Iran. And the incoming U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, tweeted on Tuesday that "German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately." It won't be easy for Europe to protect its economy from U.S. retaliatory measures, even if France announced on Wednesday that Europeans will "do everything" to protect their companies in Iran.

It still isn't clear how far the U.S. will go to force Europe into an anti-Iran alliance. Trump could exert economic pressure, of course, but he could also take a further step into security policy. He could threaten to weaken NATO solidarity if Europe doesn't join forces against Iran. That would be a catastrophe.

Still, the Europeans need to be clear on one thing: Trump has never been impressed by docility. Europe will now need to muster all of its diplomatic skill and lean on its international alliances. More than anything, though, Europe needs a strong conviction to reject anything that harms its own interests and endangers world peace.


Discuss this issue with other readers!
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Inglenda2 05/09/2018
1. why are the EU leaders such cowards?
There is only one answer Trump can understand, the EU must stop importing American goods. Russia and China would be happy to fill the gap!
ericandnancy 05/09/2018
2. Responding to Trump
Europe must stand up to Trump, it is the only thing he understands. When confronted the bully will back down. As an American concerned about this foolish action by our president, I urge Germany to make Trump pay for his uninformed decision. The German air force planes in Jordan and any other German troops in the mid-east should be immediately withdrawn as should any other European forces in the area. Let the Pentagon know that they are on their own now. Similarly countervailing sanctions should immediately be publicly discussed.especially since it is increasingly apparent that Trump is intent on blowing up all of our trade agreements. I believe Trump will back down when met with strong push back.
kaczma56 05/10/2018
In my opinion it looks like dictatorship not partnership.
Alex12094823097 05/10/2018
4. Eu Iran Policy
Europe needs to drop diplomacy soft touch approach and play hard as Trump does. We must stand united and firm against US bulling, the sooner the better. Any other strategy will just reinforce Trump behavior. We have a magnificent opportunity to prove those supporters wrong by escalating the crisis Trump started. We should imposing enough economic damage before Midterm elections and help american voters stop this idiot from ruining the world. Short term pain, long term gain .
richardjschneider 05/10/2018
5. Germany: we think you are swell.
Letter From America by Richard J. Schneider Germany: we think you are swell. We in the United States are not crazy. We do not hate Germany or other European nations. Through a fluke in our Constitution, we have elected a president who would rather destroy and tear down long standing democratic institutions rather than try to improve or strengthen them. This recent round of finger-wagging by our new ambassador should be ignored. Telling Germany where it should or should not do business is not the duty of the United States, especially a United States run by a former TV game show host. We do not want our president to routinely disparage Germany’s leadership as he often does. His demeaning of the German automobile industry for having the nerve to sell cars to U.S. citizens, reveals his utter ignorance of international trade and consumer demand. We do not want him to tell us or the world how “terrible” it is that so many German cars are on our streets. (You do owes us, however, for the VW-air pollution thing.) Please remember, that this president is not supported by a majority of American citizens. The popular vote count showed him to be three million votes behind his opponent. Because of our unique Electoral College system, he was able to become president because he won three key states by less than 100,000 votes. His popularity is at a record low, and his policies are resisted at every turn. United States citizens do not think that Germany is bad. We appreciate our relationship with your country and hope that soon we will have a new administration that reflects our affinity with you. Richard J. Schneider is an American novelist, former journalist and small business entrepreneur. His latest mystery is “VOTE: A Vic Bengston Investigation”. He lives in Denver, Colorado.
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