President Donald Trump followed through on his threats to withdraw from the international accord on Iran’s nuclear program, which he has repeatedly called a “terrible deal,” and to re-impose sanctions lifted under the agreement. The announcement Tuesday marked a rupture with major European allies who helped negotiate the accord and who lobbied intensively with Mr. Trump to keep the deal in place.
His final decision came as no surprise, however. He had telegraphed it well in advance and his briefing with allies on Tuesday was leaked ahead of the announcement. The unilateral move threatens to further destabilize the tumultuous situation in the Middle East. Oil prices have surged in anticipation of US withdrawal and may rise even further amid concerns about supply from OPEC’s third-largest exporter.
The US sanctions against Iran add a further note of uncertainty to trade relations along with US threats of tariffs in retaliation to what it sees as trade abuses. Iran is already in a crisis with an economy in decline, a weakening currency and rising prices. The US withdrawal from the accord adds to the pressure on President Hassan Rouhani and other moderates in the Iranian regime.
“We see no real alternative to the control mechanisms and limitations of Iran's nuclear program.”
Although Germany, France and Britain have pledged to honor the accord they helped negotiate, it was unclear how it would function after US withdrawal. Mr. Rouhani warned the US it would be a mistake to withdraw.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said after they met in Berlin on Monday, “We see no real alternative to the control mechanisms and limitations of Iran’s nuclear program.”
After a good deal of bluster about forging a different path from the United States, Europeans will now have to prove they are capable of doing so. “The Iran deal has become a litmus test for European willingness and ability to protect its interests and to uphold a critical element of the international order,” Oliver Meier, an expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin, wrote recently in a Handelsblatt opinion piece.
Mr. Trump criticized Iran as the world’s biggest state sponsor of terror, and accused it of using funds freed by the deal to increase its “malign” activity in the region. He criticized the deal itself for not effectively keeping Iran from getting to the “cusp” of developing nuclear weapons, as well as for not stopping development of ballistic missiles capable of carrying bombs.
“The agreement was so poorly negotiated, that even if Iran fully complies, the regime can still be on the verge of a nuclear breakout in just a short period of time,” Mr. Trump said. He said the US will work to “find a real, comprehensive and lasting solution to the Iranian nuclear threat.”
In the meantime, the sanctions being imposed are the “highest level.” The White House specified these will target energy, petrochemical and financial sectors. “Any country that helps Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons could also be strongly sanctioned by the United States,” Mr. Trump said.
The reaction in Germany was predictably unfavorable. Dieter Kempf, head of the industry association BDI said he regretted the US withdrawal from the agreement, and urged Europe – as well as China and Russia, who are also party to the accord – to reaffirm its principles. “This is about credibility in foreign, security and economic policy,” he said.
The US decision comes as a blow to German industry, Mr. Kemf added. “Our companies had high hopes for a market opening through the lifting of economic sanctions,” he said. “These prospects are now clearly clouded.”
Darrell Delamaide is a writer and editor for Handelsblatt Global in Washington, DC. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org.