Europe: Can it defy Trump on Iran?
Europe is determined to save the Iran nuclear deal, said Diogo Queiroz de Andrade in Público (Portugal). It’s the only way to prevent a nuclear arms race in the Middle East—or another war. U.S. President Donald Trump appalled his European allies last week when he decided to pull out of the 2015 pact, which lifted sanctions on Tehran in exchange for curbs to its nuclear program, and his administration infuriated them with threats to sanction European firms that continue doing business with Iran. By trampling the fruits of painstaking diplomacy, Trump has shown Europeans that the U.S. can no longer be trusted from one presidential election to the next. Everything is now “short-term, and a signature on an international treaty is worth the same as a tweet.” It is “impossible to overstate what Trump has dismantled,” said Klaus Brinkbäumer in Der Spiegel (Germany). By pulling out of the Iran deal—and the Paris climate accord—he has torpedoed 70 years’ worth of trans-Atlantic trust and cooperation. The loss is disorienting for a Europe that has long relied on the “protective power” of America, and it is forcing a reckoning. Until Trump is out of office, Europe must lead a “resistance against America.”
Such lofty language is all well and good, said Alexandra Saviana in Marianne (France), but resist how exactly? French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire says Europe won’t be “a vassal that obeys and jumps to attention.” It will conduct its own foreign policy, he vowed, and uphold the Iran deal. Yet if the U.S. makes good on its threat to sanction European firms that keep doing business with Tehran, French firms could lose big. Oil giant Total has a $1.5 billion contract to exploit Iran’s South Pars, the largest natural gas field in the world. Airbus has contracts with Iran Air worth $27 billion. Germany’s Siemens and Italy’s state rail firm FS have also inked big deals with Tehran. These companies are now trapped “between the hammer and the anvil”: either they keep trading with Iran and get hit with U.S. sanctions, or they “stop and lose all of their investments.”
European Union officials have been meeting with the Iranians this week and tossing around options for protecting businesses, said Maurizio Ricci in La Repubblica (Italy). But none of them are good. The easiest route is to beg the U.S. for exceptions to secondary sanctions, as we did when President Bill Clinton embargoed Cuba. Trump won’t go for that. Some officials have proposed reimbursing companies for the U.S. fines they incur. But the sums could soon escalate out of reach—French bank BNP Paribas had to pay $9 billion in 2014 to settle U.S. sanction violations. The most radical idea is to have the European Central Bank create a new arm to handle all Iranian trade, in euros. That “would almost be a declaration of war” against the dollar, which, as the only truly global currency, is guaranteed to prevail. “Isolating America politically is difficult. Isolating it economically, impossible.”