One considered objection to abandoning the Iran nuclear deal and reimposing sanctions in pursuit of a tougher pact has long been that a unilateral effort won’t bear fruit. Why? Because our partners in the deal believe it’s working and so won’t follow our lead — and US sanctions alone won’t bring about the broader concessions President Trump wants from Iran.
Now we’re seeing clues about how Team Trump may deal with that reality: by pressuring foreign countries and companies doing business in Iraq to cease and desist.
Last week, on his first day on the job, Richard Grenell, the new US ambassador to Germany, tweeted, “US sanctions will target critical sectors of Iran’s economy. German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately.”
And on Sunday, John Bolton, Trump’s new national security adviser, said on CNN that he believes other countries will follow the United States’ lead in leaving the agreement. Asked if the United States would sanction foreign companies that continue to do business in Iran, Bolton made it clear that was on the table.
“The answer is, it’s possible,” Bolton told Jake Tapper. “It depends on the conduct of other governments.” That and other sanction threats have left people schooled in diplomacy shaking their heads in disbelief.
“The idea that we are going to start sanctioning our most important economic partners is crazy,” said Alan Solomont, who, during his tenure as US ambassador to Spain was part of the diplomatic effort to build the sanctions regime that helped foster the agreement Trump has left. Now the Trump administration is pressuring those countries to break their word by abandoning a deal the target country has kept.
No wonder our allies are signalling their discontent in no uncertain terms.
“Looking at the latest decisions of Donald Trump, someone could even think: With friends like that, who needs enemies,” European Council President Donald Tusk told reporters on Wednesday, a sentiment he repeated in a tweet.
And contrary to Bolton’s prediction, Europe’s reaction to the United States breaking the deal seems to be to develop closer ties with Iran, not follow the United States out of the pact. When I inquired about Britain’s posture, Harriet Cross, the British Consul General in Boston, said via e-mail: “The UK continues to be party to the Iran Deal, an international agreement painstakingly negotiated over 13 years under both Republican and Democratic Administrations and enshrined in a UN Resolution. As such, the UK government continues to fully support expanding our trade relationship with Iran and encourages UK businesses to take advantage of the commercial opportunities that arise.”
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said pretty much the same after this week’s talks between France, Germany, the UK, the EU, and Iran: “The lifting of nuclear-related sanctions and the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran constitute essential parts of the agreement, and we agreed to this end to deepen our dialogue at all levels.”
So as a result of Trump’s ill-advised decision to abandon the accord, his administration must confront this awkward international reality: To retighten the screws on Iran, the United States will have to bully our allies. The Iran deal desertion is hardly the only European frustration with the United States, of course. There’s also Trump’s decision to leave the Paris climate accord and to impose tariffs on European steel, which will supposedly take effect on June 1.
As a result, in Europe, rhetoric that was once measured and forbearing in the hope that the Trump administration would settle into a more traditional role has become blunter and more forceful, as leaders there come to understand we are no longer a reliable ally.
Europe seems increasingly resolved to go it alone. And who can blame them?
Sadly for the United States, though, international friendships are easier to tear than to repair.