Will Europe Risk More Chaos in the Middle East for Transatlantic Solidarity?


Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal is strategic and was adopted for reasons, which are unrelated to the agreement as such. It is primarily directed against the Iranian regime, which, according to the Trump administration, conducts a destructive policy in the region. This conclusion was made by the participants in the Valdai Club’s expert discussion, held on May 15 and dedicated to the situation around the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for the Iranian nuclear program (JCPOA).

Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal reflects strategic interests of the United States, and the likelihood of its revision is virtually excluded. It is not the agreement itself, but the Iranian regime that is targeted, and a new deal, which Trump says he wants, is only possible after Iran is “brought to its knees.” And this means aggravation of the situation in the already volatile region. Meantime, Europe seems to be more worried about Russia’s hypothetical ability to play on the contradictions between it and the United States.

According to Sergey Ryabkov, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, the JCPOA is an unprecedented document. The “nuclear deal” was concluded when, after years of fruitless negotiations, a feeling arose that the world was approaching a dangerous red line. The parties realized that the political and diplomatic solution to the complex problems related to the Iranian nuclear program had no alternative. So far, the JCPOA has been one of the few working multilateral non-proliferation agreements, containing a set of rights and obligations that all participants followed, contributing to its sustainability.

A peculiarity of the JCPOA was that the signatories managed to separate the main things from the secondary ones, Ryabkov stressed. While recognizing Iran’s right to nuclear research, the parties created a mechanism that ensures its exclusively peaceful nature. Now Donald Trump demands to consider issues, which are unrelated to one another, bringing to the forefront the factor of Iran’s regional policy and its missile program, creating thereby an “explosive mixture.”

According to the participants in the discussion, Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the deal is of strategic nature and was adopted for reasons, which are unrelated to the agreement as such. It is primarily directed against the Iranian regime, which, according to the Trump administration, conducts a destructive policy in the region. A key instrument of pressure on the Iranian authorities is limiting Iran’s oil revenues. “The United States’ determination to limit Iran’s oil exports and cut its incomes is not just obvious, it is at the heart of the arguments used to present Trump’s decisions to the international community,” Ryabkov stressed.

The likelihood of a review of this decision by the US administration is practically equal to zero. “We see a multi-layered, multidimensional goal in the United States’ withdrawal from the JCPOA, and this only reinforces our confidence that this is a very serious, very thoughtful decision, that cannot be reversed, cannot be reconsidered,” the Russian diplomat noted.

Having declared withdrawal from the JCPOA on May 8, Trump stressed that he was ready for negotiations to conclude a “real” deal. However, given the attitude of the US administration to the Iranian regime (according to Anton Khlopkov, Director of the Moscow-based Center for Energy and Security Studies, Trump’s goal is to “bring Iran to its knees”), it is obvious that there cannot be any JCPOA 2.0. That is why, as Khlopkov noted, other signatories of the agreement are working to ensure that the deal is preserved in the original format, confirming that they will continue to honor its terms.

The key issue here is the threat of severe American extraterritorial sanctions. Are the European countries ready to be engaged in a serious conflict with the US and to protect their companies, also stimulating businesses to continue dealings with Iran? There is no such readiness in Europe. “They say beautiful words, but there is no legal process that would protect the businesses or give them an opportunity to work on both Iranian and American markets,” Khlopkov said.

Meanwhile, Europeans suspect that Russia is trying to play on the contradictions between them and the United States. As Khlopkov remarked, the prospect of Russia’s contribution to a split between Europe and America worries them more than the fate of the JCPOA itself. According to Ryabkov, such suspicions have no basis.

“It never occurred to us to try and catch geopolitical fish in the muddy waters of the transatlantic contradictions,” the Russian diplomat said figuratively. “If we throw a fishing rod into this muddy water, all the fish in the North Atlantic would immediately flock into such a tight stock, that no shark or barracuda would have it eaten.”

Russia intends to continue its participation in the JCPOA and to further develop relations with Iran, Ryabkov stressed. According to him, the Chinese colleagues demonstrate a similar attitude. “We have stated and continue to state that we are ready to continue to fully comply with all the JCPOA provisions, to the extent and as long as other parties adhere to it. This formulation was in effect before the US withdrawal from the JCPOA, and we decided that we continue to adhere to it after the US withdrew from the JCPOA, considering the behavior of the remaining participants,” Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation concluded.

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