By Britta Petersen
The news of Donald Trump pulling the United States out of the nuclear deal with Iran has been dreaded but long expected in Europe – and yet it comes as a shock. It lays bare the uncomfortable truth that neither the charm of French President Emmanuel Macron, who was seen hugging and kissing with Trump just two weeks ago, nor the “unforced force of the better argument” that German Chancellor Angela Merkel might have tried to exert in her meeting with the US President in favour of the deal, was of much help. The European toolbox seems exhausted.
But it would be too early to ring the death bell for European diplomacy. On the contrary, this will have to be its finest hour because there is more at stake than just self-respect. It took Europe, that is the EU and the so called E3 (the member states that participated in the negotiations: the UK, France and Germany) more than 10 years to come to reach an agreement with Iran. A deal that was less than perfect, as all negotiated deals but it fulfilled its purpose.
Abolishing the so called Joint Comprehensive Plan for Action (JCPOA) unilaterally is an incredible affront to Europe, that once was the closest ally of the US. As if this is not enough, the newly appointed US-Ambassador to Germany, Richard Allen Grenell, even rubbed salt into the wound by asking German companies doing business in Iran to “wind down operations immediately”.
A statement that triggered a tartly response from German diplomat and Chairman of the Munich Security Conference, Wolfgang Ischinger: “My advice, after a long ambassadorial career: explain your own countries’ policies, and lobby the host country – but never tell the host country what to do if you want to stay out of trouble. Germans are eager to listen but they will resent instructions.”
But there is more at stake for Europe than the painful process of realising that the transatlantic partnership cannot be taken for granted anymore. It is clear that “negotiating a better deal” with Iran, as Trump wants to make people believe, is out of question given the long and difficult history of the JCPOA.
Instead, the region is facing the risk of a nuclear arms race or even war between Israel and Iran. If Trump attempts more steps towards “regime change” in Tehran, a further destabilisation of West Asia is guaranteed. For Europe, this would not only result in even more refugees. Germany, for example, already hosts the largest community of Iranian exiles, around 120,000. A war in Europe’s immediate neighborhood puts its own security at risk.
The EU therefore needs to unite and unanimously condemn the US decision to withdraw from the deal. Europe has to reject any attempt to re-open negotiations and instead demonstrate to Iran that it is willing fight for the deal so that Tehran in return will have a motivation to adhere to it. Europe must also reach out to difficult partners, especially China and Russia, who are parties in the deal and to friends such as India, who have an interest in the stability of the region and who want to lower the risk of nuclear proliferation.
Europe will also need to beef-up its diplomacy in the West Asia and play a far more proactive role in the region This might be all very uncomfortable and not save the deal in the end. But no state can choose its neighbours and if your closest ally lets you down, it is high time to develop a plan B.