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Iran's Nukes

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Europe Wary as U.S. Scrutinizes Iran Nuclear Deal

July 14th 2017

Iranian Women

European diplomats say they are increasingly concerned the Trump administration will stretch out its review of the Iranian nuclear deal, undermining the agreement by curbing the economic benefits designed to ensure Iran’s compliance.

President Donald Trump has attacked the agreement, reached in 2015, as a “terrible deal” for the U.S.

European officials have remained publicly upbeat about the U.S. remaining a party to the deal, but diplomats privately voice serious concerns about where the U.S. review is headed. They say Washington is providing little feedback, has given no firm end-date for the review and hasn’t made clear who is shaping the process.

European officials still believe the Trump administration won’t abandon the nuclear deal, but many fear Washington will keep it under a rolling review. That, they say, would crimp economic benefits Iran expected from the agreement by persuading already cautious Western banks and investors to stay away—whereas President Barack Obama’s top officials urged engagement with Tehran. European diplomats also worry that if the U.S. commitment remains uncertain, Iran may respond by attempting limited violations.

Trump administration officials have raised concerns—echoed in some European capitals—that the deal doesn’t curtail Iran’s nuclear activities once its key commitments expire over the next 15 years. Washington has also repeatedly criticized the deal for not committing Iran to change its behavior in the region, where it has intervened to support the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and moved to increase its influence elsewhere through proxy forces such as Hezbollah.
Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Javad Zarif after talks in Berlin last month.
Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Javad Zarif after talks in Berlin last month. PHOTO:EMMANUELE CONTINI/NURPHOTO/ZUMA PRESS

While Obama administration officials toured Europe to encourage companies to take advantage of the lifting of most sanctions, the new administration has taken the opposite approach. White House Deputy Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that Mr. Trump used last weekend’s Group of 20 leaders meeting in Germany to press his counterparts “to stop doing business with nations that sponsor terrorism, especially Iran.”

The limbo over the deal could strain U.S. ties with Europe, where the governments of France, Germany, and the U.K., as well as the European Union, helped negotiate the deal and strongly support it. They argue the deal averted a military conflict over Iran’s nuclear program and is now allowing the continent to start rebuilding investment ties with Tehran.

“I think a situation where the new administration will just keep things under review—I would not say forever, but on and on and on—I don’t think that is unrealistic,” a senior European diplomat said. “Nobody has any guarantee of the outcome.”

U.S. officials said Washington has informed allies about the basic parameters of the review. A senior administration official said the U.S. had “numerous bilateral meetings with different European allies” to solicit feedback.

Many senior U.S. defense and foreign-policy posts remain unfilled, including senior ambassadors including envoys to the European Union. European diplomats say that has hampered communication. As the Trump administration settled in earlier this year, Europeans remained confident that the nuclear deal would remain intact, even as Congress and the new president vowed to increase pressure on Tehran over its regional actions, missile tests and human-rights abuses.

EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters she was reassured after her first meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in February that the new administration intended to stick to “the full implementation of the agreement,” which obliged Iran to slash its nuclear facilities, infrastructure and activities in exchange for a lifting of most international sanctions.

European diplomats worked with their U.S. counterparts after Mr. Trump took office to identify parts of the nuclear accord where oversight could be tightened, hoping stricter implementation would ease Washington’s doubts.

Ms. Mogherini said last month she believed the U.S. review would end with “wise decisions.” Privately, diplomats are less assured about the review’s outcome. “I’m afraid that anything is possible,” a second senior European diplomat said.

European officials have repeatedly said they wouldn’t reimpose European sanctions on Iran, regardless of U.S. action, as long as Tehran complied with the deal. The U.S. has kept in place its primary sanctions, which ban most U.S. firms from doing business with Tehran.

European officials originally understood the review would be done in mid-July but now expect it could continue through the summer. They have received no assurances that they will be alerted before a decision is made.

“I’m not even sure who will be allowed to contribute to the decision,” said another senior European official.

The Trump administration official dismissed that concern. “The input that we’ve gotten from our European allies has been very constructive on a whole range of issues,“ the official said. ”Allied countries know very well who they need to reach out to express views and they’re doing that.”

The official said the review’s timetable is being driven by the substance of the work. “There’s no set date for its completion,” the official said. “I don’t think it’s going to take forever.”

While the Trump administration has expressed doubts about the accord, European capitals welcomed it as a way to block Iran’s path to nuclear weapons in coming years and to re-engage economically and diplomatically with Tehran. They argue, as the Obama administration did, that only by separating the nuclear issue from other concerns about Iran’s regional behavior could the nuclear issue—the most urgent at the time—be resolved.

For now, U.S. doubts about the Iran deal don’t seem to have encouraged Tehran to stray from its commitments. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations body monitoring the accord, says Iran is complying with the deal. Iran is enjoying a steady inflow of money and foreign investments despite nervousness about Washington’s view.

Felicia Schwartz in Washington contributed to this article.


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