by Peter Jenkins
It looks as though Britain, France, and Germany have decided to appease President Donald Trump to discourage him from withdrawing the United States from the July 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA).
“After meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May… and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said they had agreed to set up a working group of experts on fixing flaws in the landmark 2015 agreement that President Trump has warned he will walk away from this spring unless adjustments are made to his liking.” (PBS)
“France’s foreign minister said on Sunday he would visit Iran on March 5 to discuss its ballistic missile program and the nuclear deal agreed with world powers in 2015.” (Reuters)
“Germany is lobbying among European allies to agree new sanctions against Iran in an attempt to prevent U.S. President Donald Trump from terminating an international deal curbing Tehran’s nuclear program, Der Spiegel…cited diplomats in Brussels as saying that Germany was pushing for new sanctions together with Britain and France.”(Reuters)
It is hard to make sense of this decision to appease.
Unlike Hitler at Munich in 1938, President Trump does not have even half a case. Hitler could claim, with some justification, that the architects of the 1919 Paris Peace had treated Sudeten Germans unjustly. A near-universal view of the JCPOA is that it is both just and a very useful contribution to the cause of nuclear non-proliferation. It rests on an old belief: “Sufficient unto the day.” Whether it is “flawed”, as President Trump alleges, will only become apparent years from now, through International Atomic Energy Agency investigations..
Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier believed that the only alternatives to appeasement were a war with Germany, for which Britain and France were unprepared, or shameful acquiescence in a German attack on Czechoslovakia. Europe’s alternative to accommodating President Trump is to join forces with a large part of the global community to persuade Iran that the JCPOA is worth preserving, even if the United States pulls out.
Hitler was susceptible to appeasement, albeit not for long. President Trump will be as dismissive of his allies’ efforts three months from now as he has been of their arguments for continued US participation in the JCPOA. He will say that they have failed to fix the “flaws” or even to check Iran’s ballistic missile program. This is foreseeable because Iran has made clear that it will not offer further nuclear concessions, or negotiate restrictions to its sovereign right to develop and possess missiles for defensive purposes.
All this is bad enough. Worse is the risk that European accommodation of President Trump will prompt Iran to pull out of the JCPOA in response to a US withdrawal. European solidarity with Iran, on the other hand, can convince Tehran to preserve the agreement.
At present how Tehran intends to react to a US withdrawal is unknown. On October 18, Iran’s Supreme Leader said: ”As long as the other side does not tear up the JCPOA, we will not tear it up.” What he meant by “the other side” he did not define. Did he have just the United States in mind or most of the other parties?
But the way Iran conducted its diplomacy during the various negotiations that culminated in the JCPOA suggests that European choices can help to determine Tehran’s reaction.
If Europe opts for appeasement, it risks being seen in Tehran as siding with a party that is seeking to undermine the JCPOA against a party that has been supportive of it, and fully compliant.
Appeasement also risks being construed by Iran as a violation of paragraph viii of the JCPOA Preamble, especially if E3 lobbying in Brussels for new sanctions is successful:
The E3/EU+3 commit to implement this JCPOA in good faith and in a constructive atmosphere, based on mutual respect, and to refrain from any action inconsistent with the spirit and letter of the JCPOA that would undermine its successful implementation. The E3/EU+3 will refrain from imposing discriminatory regulatory and procedural requirements in lieu of the sanctions and restrictive measures covered by the JCPOA.
Iran’s diplomats value reciprocity, mutual respect, and justice. If European policy demonstrates a similar attachment to these values, European representatives will get a hearing in Tehran. They will stand a good chance of persuading Iran’s leaders that Iran can remain in receipt of most of the benefits promised by the JCPOA, even if the United States ceases to be a party, as long as Iran continues to honor its part of the bargain.
That, then, is one alternative to appeasing Washington. Another, compatible with the first, is to engage leading members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and ask them to make their views known to Iran if, as seems to be the case, they wish the JCPOA to survive US withdrawal. Iran, itself a leading NAM member, values the opinions of most of its NAM peers. It allowed NAM members to influence its reactions back in 2003, when its failure to declare certain nuclear activities and material came to light.
Third, Europe should make common cause with Russia and China, both of which prize the JCPOA, champion the nuclear non-proliferation regime, and have refused to have anything to do with President Trump’s anti-JCPOA campaign.
Last, to stiffen their resolve, Europeans should keep in mind how much President Trump is motivated by a desire to please the leaders of Israel and Saudi Arabia. As Trita Parsi sets out in Losing an Enemy, those leaders tried hard to destroy the JCPOA during the late summer of 2015. Donald Trump’s presidency has given them a chance to try again. In Davos this week the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, told reporters that he had urged German Chancellor Angela Merkel to realize that the “only option is to introduce real and non-cosmetic changes [to the JCPOA] that will prevent the nuclearization of Iran.” Netanyahu has been exaggerating the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program since 1992.
Margaret Thatcher once said to President George H. W. Bush: “Don’t go all wobbly on me, George.” Europe, don’t go all wobbly on the JCPOA!
Photo: High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini.