European leaders are openly warning the U.S. against scrapping an agreement they consider to be a settled diplomatic achievement after months of downplaying differences with the Trump administration over the fate of the Iran nuclear deal.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), most recently attacking it as “an embarrassment to the United States” during his address to the United Nations General Assembly last week. Trump has twice certified Iran’s compliance with the deal, but as the next re-certification deadline looms in October, administration officials have suggested the president will refuse to certify to Congress that Tehran is adhering to the framework.
Top European diplomats say the White House would find itself isolated if it chooses to pursue that course of action. EU ambassador to the U.S. David O’Sullivan warned that Europe would retaliate if Washington attempts to unilaterally impose sanctions on Iran that also affect European commercial interests.
“We have the blocking statute … which does offer legal protection to European companies which are threatened by the extraterritorial nature of U.S. sanctions in certain circumstances,” he said Monday at the Atlantic Council in Washington, referring to a European law that gives legal protection to companies penalized by sanctions.
“I have no doubt that if this scenario materializes, which it’s not clear it will, the European Union will act to protect the legitimate interests of our companies with all the means at our disposal,” O’Sullivan added.
The European signatories to the JCPOA — Britain, France, and Germany — have become increasingly worried that Washington will pull out of the deal or seek to renegotiate its terms. During a speech to the American Enterprise Institute earlier this month, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley outlined how de-certification would occur and suggested that European concerns would not prevent the White House from acting in U.S. interests.
Administration critics of the deal say it rewards Iran with generous sanctions relief while not doing enough to limit Tehran’s progress toward developing a nuclear weapon. They also want an agreement that limits Iran’s continued testing of ballistic missiles and support for terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, which JCPOA does not address.
European leaders believe those concerns should be dealt with in separate negotiations while the JCPOA remains in place to constrain Iran’s nuclear program. They say the deal is working as intended and are reluctant to re-visit trade sanctions that would fall harder on Europe than the U.S., which has very little trade with Iran. If Washington re-imposes nuclear sanctions, Europe will be faced with the choice of backing its most powerful ally or pulling out of a deal they say was negotiated in good faith.
New U.S. sanctions “would force European banks and companies to choose between America’s $19 trillion market, and Iran’s $400 billion one,” Mark Dubowitz, a chief executive of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a prominent Iran deal critic, told The New York Times.
Facing such an unpleasant choice, Europe is now trying to convince the Trump administration that too many countries — including China and Russia — are invested in JCPOA to kill the deal.
“No way. There won’t be any reopening of the agreement,” French ambassador to the U.S. Gerard Araud told the Atlantic Council. “The agreement is working as is.”
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