Analysis & Opinions - METRO U.N.

Strategy on Iran: US-European Differences

| May 29, 2019

American-European disagreements over a strategy on Iran took a turn for the worse when President Trump sent a carrier strike group, a bomber force and additional troops into the Gulf to deal with an alleged Iranian threat, thus raising the danger of another major war in an already war-torn region. These actions deepen the differences that had emerged between the US and the European allies when Trump withdrew the US from the nuclear deal with Iran (the JCPOA) reached under the Obama Administration after years of negotiations with Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia and endorsed by the UN Security Council.

Three disagreements have been central: First, Europe considered the nuclear deal as the best way to halt Iran’s access to nuclear weapons using international control and thereby prevent a nuclear arms race in the region, indeed, save the global non-proliferation regime. The Trump Administration, however, not only considered the nuclear solution as insufficient;  it wanted to simultaneously address other problems such as Iran’s missile program and its support of terrorism. The Europeans tried to address these questions in negotiations with the Administration, even got near to an agreement but could not prevent Trump from withdrawing from the deal.

Second, Europeans considered the economic rewards in the agreement (in exchange for Iran’s observance of its constraints) as a vehicle to open up the country and give reformers a better chance. Trump, however, and some forces in Congress saw the lifting of sanctions only as an encouragement to support terrorist groups and imposed increased sanctions instead, which in the eyes of the Europeans inevitably strengthen the hardliners among the mullahs as well as the Revolutionary Guard.

Third, Europeans considered Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement as another manifestation of the divergence between his “America First” based rejection of multilateralism and the European preference for cooperative diplomacy to induce an Iranian behavior more compliant with international norms. Moreover, they generally regret that under Trump the US no longer pursues a Middle East strategy that aims at security and a balance of power in the region as a whole and instead throws all its weight behind one side in the Sunni-Shia conflict.

The American measures of “maximum pressure” undertaken since the withdrawal from the JCPOA further deepened the rift with the European allies, in particular the removal of Iran from the SWIFT payment mechanism, secondary sanctions against all companies trading with Iran, a series of actions to completely stop Iranian oil exports as well as Secretary of State Pompeo’s 13 demands which amount to no less than a complete and highly improbable capitulation by Iran.

In order to help companies maintaining trade with Iran, the European Union, developed an alternative payment system outside SWIFT and the Dollar (INSTEX), but it has only had  a marginal impact since most companies do not want to lose their more important US business. Iran responded to the US measures by beginning to abandon limitations of the JCPOA and by threatening further actions within 60 days unless the JCPOA partners fulfill their economic obligations toward Iran. 

Tensions have risen significantly after several ships were sabotaged in the Straits of Hormuz and the US accompanied the deployment of military forces to the Gulf with a good deal of bellicose language including the threat of “Iran’s official end”.

Unlike the Iraq war of 2003 when Europe was split in its support of the US, all of Europe now disagrees with the American approach to Iran. If the US were to use military force, there would be no European support and the sad likelihood of unifying Europe on an anti-American basis.

  – Via the original publication source.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Kaiser, Karl.“Strategy on Iran: US-European Differences.” METRO U.N., May 29, 2019.

The Author