M K Bhadrakumar |
The last big European effort to dissuade US President Donald Trump from abandoning the 2015 Iran nuclear pact ended without success Friday with the ‘working visit’ by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the White House. Earlier in the week, French President Emmanuel Macron also tried his hand. Perhaps, all that remains is a phone call from British PM Theresa May to Trump.
Macron and Merkel met with no success. Macron floated an ingenious idea of linking the Syrian conflict, Iran’s ballistic missile program, Iran’s regional policies and the nuclear deal and negotiating a new package deal. But Trump didn’t sound enthusiastic. He’d rather tear up the Iran deal and move on. Macron estimated finally when that Trump would act for “domestic reasons.” Mike Pompeo, the newly appointed secretary of state, also said Friday that the US is unlikely to remain in the deal.
At the joint press conference with Merkel at the White House on Friday, Trump was rhetorical and took a hard line. Merkel, while conceding that the 2015 pact might not have been a perfect deal, flagged that it was a “first step” that significantly slowed down Iran’s nuclear program and left scope for improvement – “one piece of the mosaic, one building block, if you like, on which we can build up this structure.”
Read more: Trump opens a Pandora’s box in Middle East
Indeed, the remarks by Macron and Merkel vaguely hint at their acceptance that the 2015 pact needs to be re-negotiated. If so, they have caved into Trump’s bullying. On the other hand, what they said does not reflect the common European Union position. The EU has never discussed the idea of a new Iran deal. The vast majority of EU countries seem perfectly pleased with the implementation of the 2015 deal and see no reason to reopen the agreement that was painstakingly negotiated. Any shift in the EU stance will need unanimity of opinion, which is highly unlikely to favor a re-negotiation of the 2015 deal.
The big question is what Iran’s reaction is likely to be to Trump’s decision to leave the nuclear deal. The Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif spoke on this in a conversation with Robin Wright at the New Yorker magazine. This is what Wright wrote:
· Tehran has three broad choices if Trump opts out, according to Zarif. In the first, Iran could withdraw from the deal, terminate compliance, and resume—even increase—its uranium enrichment… “America should never have feared Iran producing a nuclear bomb,” Zarif said. “But we will pursue vigorously our nuclear enrichment.”
· Iran’s second option exploits a dispute mechanism in the deal, which allows any party to file a formal complaint with a commission established to adjudicate violations. Iran has filed eleven complaints—to Federica Mogherini, the E.U.’s foreign-policy chief, who heads the commission—citing U.S. violations on three different counts, Zarif said. The process allows forty-five days for resolution. “The objective of the process is to bring the United States into compliance,” Zarif said.
· Iran’s third option is the most drastic: the country could decide to walk away from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, or N.P.T… In Tehran, the debate is still intense about which option Iran should choose. “Iran is not a monolith,” Zarif said.
The growing impression is that the 2015 deal cannot be saved. But then, there is a flip side to it. One, Trump has shown that his strident rhetoric need not necessarily be followed by the corresponding action. The North Korean example is in front of us. Two, Washington never really implemented the Iran deal. So, what difference does it make if Trump pulls out?
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In the downstream, the US options are very limited. More US sanctions? Well, Iran has lived with US sanctions for four decades. Regime change? Just forget it. Military attack? Simply suicidal. Then, there are the ground realities. Iran is well entrenched in the so-called northern tier of the Middle East (Iraq, Syria and Lebanon) where the Shi’ite predominance is a geopolitical reality. Above all, there are other players in that region also who don’t like the US presence.
Importantly, Russia and China will never cooperate with Trump on the Iran file. The only significant variable, if at all, could be Europe’s implementation of the deal, which is, of course, crucial for Tehran. This was how Wright concluded: “I asked Zarif if there was a prospect if the deal dies, that Iran would negotiate again with the United States. “Diplomacy never dies,” he told me. “But it doesn’t mean that there is only one avenue for diplomacy, and that is the United States.” Whatever Iran’s final decision, he said, it “won’t be very pleasant to the United States. That I can say. That’s a consensus.”
M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”. This piece was first published in Indian Punchline. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.