US and Europe on chessboard over Iran

By Zhang Shengjun Source:Global Times Published: 2019/2/21 14:38:40

Transatlantic relations on chessboard over Iran nuclear agreement

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The vaunted US-sponsored Middle East security conference, held with the aim to isolate Iran, was hobbled by the tepid eagerness shown by key European powers to attend. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini was absent from the Warsaw conference held on February 13 and 14. UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt left early, while neither France nor Germany sent high-ranking officials. 

The reasons for major European powers giving the meeting a short shrift are many. First, these European states may have been swamped by domestic issues, like France caught up in the yellow vest protests. 

The US' record of failure in the Middle East is another cause, leading to confrontation among great powers, such as the one between Washington and Moscow on Syria, strains with Iran and Turkey and US' involvement in Yemen.

Furthermore, the US and European countries lack consensus on how to deal with Middle East issues, including Iran. Withdrawal of US President Donald Trump's administration from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal has caused a rift with the EU, reopening a hiatus on the Iran issue. European states are disappointed with Trump's move on Iran.

Trump administration's attitude toward Tehran is different from the European countries'. US' withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal is partly attributable to Washington's new strategy for the Middle East. The US used to proactively intervene in Middle East affairs while maintaining the region's stability. But Washington showed a major reversal in this regard.

The Iran issue will be crucial in negotiations between the US and Europe. There are many bumps in US-Europe ties. Washington has adjusted its policies toward Europe. US-Europe relations are at a low point as the two sides lack consensus on a number of issues, such as how to play the role of major powers, and on their economic policies. Among them, the disagreement on Iran is an important factor influencing ties.

On January 31, the UK, France and Germany officially created a trading system to get around US sanctions that will enable them to do business with Iran. According to BBC, the UK Foreign Office said the Instrument for Supporting Trade Exchanges was a "new mechanism for facilitating legitimate trade between European entities and Iran."

If European nations bypass US sanctions to continue to trade with Iran, Washington may punish the companies involved. Political and economic differences are apparent in current transatlantic ties. France and Germany renewed their outlook over their self-interest and intend to maintain the EU's autonomy, which will make the US livid. Frictions between the US and Europe will exist. However, as the EU has a significant economic presence across the world, Washington may not retaliate strongly against the bloc.

At the Warsaw summit, US Vice President Mike Pence appealed to Europe to abandon the Iran nuclear accord along with Washington. Nevertheless, the US' withdrawal from the nuclear deal was unilateral and the EU need not take responsibility. 

Moreover, as the US' global leadership is waning, European countries are unlikely to blindly follow Washington in withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. 

The author is deputy director at the Belt and Road School of Beijing Normal University.
Newspaper headline: Transatlantic relations on chessboard over Iran nuclear agreement

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