Europe Should Stop Trying to Save the Iran Deal
(The Bloomberg View) -- In the three months since U.S. President Donald Trump unwisely abrogated the nuclear deal with Iran, Europe’s leaders have been vowing to keep it alive. They must now face what is already clear to business leaders everywhere: The agreement cannot be revived. The sooner work begins on a new one, the better for everyone involved.
Saving the deal — which granted Iran sanctions relief in return for new restrictions on its nuclear program — was never a real prospect after Trump pulled out. Once U.S. sanctions snapped back into place, few companies would dare to do business with the Islamic Republic.
And yet Europe’s leaders have clung to the conceit that the agreement could still be made to work, ignoring not only the exhortations of the Trump administration but also the clear message from their own companies, which (like their American counterparts) have been scrapping plans to do business with Iran.
It has fallen to Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs, to keep up the pretense that the agreement yet lives. Since the first set of U.S. sanctions was reapplied earlier this month, she has sworn to do “our best to keep Iran in the deal.” She has urged companies to defy the sanctions, and the EU has invoked the so-called “blocking statute” to prevent them from withdrawing from Iran and allow them to take legal action against the Trump administration. Unimpressed, businesses have continued to flee.
Mogherini is hardly the only one to have her rhetoric undermined by reality. India’s foreign minister made an early show of independence, declaring that her country would “comply with UN sanctions and not any country-specific sanctions.” Then India’s largest petrochemicals firm, Reliance Industries Ltd., said that it would stop imports if U.S. sanctions were applied. Now New Delhi is offering to halve its imports from Iran to secure a waiver. For all of Russia’s stated desire to “do everything necessary” to save the deal, it hasn’t been able to stop Lukoil, its second-largest oil producer, from suspending projects in Iran.
As these companies clearly recognize, the deal is dead. Now Europe must start working toward a new one that would address the weaknesses of the original while satisfying the Trump administration and the Iranian regime. The outlines of such a deal are clear enough: It must extend the period in which Iran is prohibited from developing nuclear weapons, allow for more rigorous inspection of nuclear sites, restrict Iran’s missile-development program, and restrain its other disruptive and deadly activities in its neighborhood.
None of this will be easy, of course. The Europeans are still smarting from Trump’s arrogant disregard for their opinions, while the Iranians are still raw from what they see as American double-dealing. Trump’s trigger-happy tweeting hasn’t helped. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has even banned talks with the U.S.
But a deepening economic crisis could yet force a change of heart in Tehran. A second round of U.S. sanctions, targeting oil exports and due in November, could also concentrate minds. For his part, Trump has said he’s open to meeting with Iran’s leaders “whenever they want to.” He might welcome a second act to his summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. The Iranians might reflect on the fact that Kim lost nothing from that encounter.
All this is, admittedly, slim hope on which to base a long, tortured process of negotiation. But it’s better than the false hope that Europe’s leaders are currently clinging to.
Editorials are written by the Bloomberg View editorial board.
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