Tirman: JCPOA opportunity for EU to leave US dominance

Tirman: JCPOA opportunity for EU to leave US dominance
ID : N-1784 Date : 2018/05/16 - 14:22

(Persia Digest) - Speaking about Donald Trump turning down European requests about the US staying in the 2015 JCPOA Iran nuclear deal and the deepening gap between the US and EU, John Tirman says: “This is a golden opportunity for the EU to rebalance the alliance, which for decades has been dominated by the U.S.”

Donald Trump has finally made good on his election campaign promise to quit the JCPOA Iran nuclear deal. Most countries have opposed his move, including the EU, China, and Russia. President Rouhani has announced that Iran will stay in the deal if the remaining signatories remain committed to it. But White House national security adviser John Bolton said Sunday that "it's possible" there will be secondary sanctions imposed on European companies as a result of the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.

Persia Digest has conducted an interview on the future of the Iran nuclear deal with John Tirman, Executive Director & Principal Research Scientist at MIT Center for International Studies. John Tirman has written numerous articles on US-Iran relations. He has also coedited the book "U.S.-Iran Misperceptions: A Dialogue" with Abbas Maleki.

You can read the interview here:

The EU, in words at least, wants to keep the JCPOA and has opposed Trump’s move. But, are they able to give Iran guarantees to prevent secondary US sanctions from affecting Iran’s dealings with other countries?

This is the key question.  It’s not clear what Germany, France, and the UK will do, whether they move forward in concert or separately, and how Russian and Chinese reactions figure in their decisions. My guess is that the EU-3 will try to “carve out” sectors of allowable trade with Iran, that is, negotiate these quietly with the U.S. Whether that will satisfy Iran remains to be seen.   

Some say that in leaving the JCPOA, Trump has in fact ignored his European allies. The cover of Der Spiegel weekly magazine was especially interesting with the caption “GOODBYE, EUROPE!” Earlier, Trump's decision to increase import tariffs on steel and aluminum had already angered Europe. Will the American withdrawal from the JCPOA widen the gap between Europe and the US?

This is one of the signal concerns of the security establishment in Washington, and they have a point. The alliance with Europe has served American interests very handsomely for 70 years. These disruptions, for no good reason whatsoever, are very damaging, not only due to the substance of the actions, but what they portend for the future. Trump seems to feel more comfortable dealing with authoritarians (Putin, Erdogan, Xi, Duterte, MbS, Netanyahu, et al) than with the more complex relationships involving actual democracies and alliances. This is very troubling.

Stephen Walt is an American professor of international relations at Harvard University. On 2 May 2018, he wrote in Foreign Policy that the leaders of the three European powers are “the main reason for the possible failure of the JCPOA.” If European passivity continues to hinder Iran’s benefits under the deal and leads to an Iranian withdrawal from the JCPOA and its demise, how will the EU’s global positioning be affected?

This is a golden opportunity for the EU to rebalance the alliance, which for decades has been dominated by the U.S. Charting its own course would send a message to Trump and future presidents that Europe cannot be taken for granted.  It would encourage the EU to be more assertive in dealing with Russia, Israel, Turkey and other rogues in the international system. Merkel and Macron have the standing to pursue this course. 

How will US sanctions be effective and impact Iran if it decides to remain in the JCPOA? Will they affect the Iranian economy like before?

The consequences of sanctions for Iran’s economy is one of the major questions for Rouhani, and it’s not yet clear—mainly because China and Russia may ignore U.S. dictates, and Europe possibly will as well. China in particular can supply much of what is lost from the U.S. and Europe. But there’s little doubt that overall the Iranian economy will suffer. It would suffer more, however, if Tehran leaves the deal.


Read more:

► Nephew: EU can prevent secondary sanctions against Iran


Will the US withdrawal from the multilateral agreement have actual, tangible implications for this country? Some talk about US isolation and discredit among other countries. To what extent will the fallout of this decision be real for the US?

As usual, much depends on what happens next.  If Iran remains in the JCPOA and Europe trades with Iran, the damage to the U.S. is, ironically, minimized. If Israel or the U.S. strikes Iran’s nuclear facilities, that would rebound harshly against Washington in world opinion. As a global hegemon, the U.S. can survive many disastrous, inhumane policies (wars in Vietnam, Iraq, etc.), but every such case erodes its moral authority. However imperfect, international institutions and norms have served the U.S. and much of the world very well, and the alternatives to the global rule of law are not pretty. Constantly disrupting these institutions and norms will come to be seen as extremely destructive, and the onus for such destruction rests on Trump’s shoulders. 

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