Thursday, May 24, 2018

US – Europe stand-off over Iran deal

The Trump Administration’s anti-Iran rhetoric was stepped up this week with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying the United States will crush Iran’s influence in the Middle East by imposing the “strongest sanctions in history”.

Speaking to the Heritage Foundation think tank, Pompeo went on to say the sanctions would include targeting Iran’s “malign cyber activity” and that the Islamic State’s operatives and their Hezbollah proxies around the world would be “tracked down and crushed”.

The Secretary’s colourful language is straight out of President Donald Trump’s lexicon, and indeed Pompeo is no more than a mouthpiece for his boss, in contrast to his predecessor, Rex Tillerson, who was sacked for daring to disagree over the handling of the Iran issue.

By withdrawing from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in which Iran agreed to roll back parts of its nuclear program in exchange for relief from some sanctions, Trump now has the freedom to act in any way he sees fit, but there are other parties to the deal — China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and the European Union — all of whom are still supporting it.

The crunch will come if the US’s “strongest sanctions in history” results in moves against companies from these other partner countries who continue to have links with Iran. Pompeo says they will be “held to account” — that could mean banning them from doing business in the US.

Most observers say that in a choice between the US and Iran, most firms would feel they had to abide by the Trump-imposed sanctions. Should that happen, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani would declare the JCPOA null and void and reactivate the country’s nuclear program, including its weapons component.

Antagonism towards Trump’s ‘my way or the highway’ attitude is mounting in Western countries. France’s Minister for Finance, Bruno Le Marie, said it was not acceptable for the US to play the economic policeman of the planet. In Brussels, the European Commission is actively considering ways to get round any future sanctions.

Strategic intelligence expert Caroline Galacteros believes the EU should face down Washington and continue to work with Iran within the JCPOA.

“It’s up to us to decide in the end if we really want to accept this extra-territoriality of US law,” Galacteros said.

“If Europe sticks to the deal and the Iranians are cautious and won’t hit back, because that’s what Washington is probably expecting of them, then we have Europe and Iran sticking to the deal as well as Russia and China.

“It will transform the balance of power.”

That is going a little too far. Most multinational European companies simply cannot afford to have their US interests endangered, which brings us back to the possibility of a major powder keg being lit in the already over-heated Middle East, resulting in a conflagration unprecedented even for that conflict-wracked region.

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