To absolutely nobody’s surprise, Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he was pulling the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal, an agreement he has repeatedly lambasted as “an embarrassment” to his country and the “worst deal ever.”
Trump continued attacking the deal just as he withdrew from it, saying it was “defective at its core” and “a great embarrassment to me as a citizen and to all citizens of the United States.”
“America will not be held hostage to nuclear blackmail,” Trump said. “We will not allow American cities to be threatened with destruction, and we will not allow a regime that chants ‘Death to America’ to gain access to the most deadly weapons on earth.”
He said he would implement the “highest level” of economic sanctions against Iran, and that “any nation that helps Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons could also be strongly sanctioned.”
Although widely anticipated, Trump’s decision will have seismic implications. Before his announcement, European leaders warned that scrapping the deal would reignite a global crisis over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions, set off a possible nuclear arms race in the region, and pave the way to greater confrontation between the U.S. and Iran. As a result of Tuesday’s announcement, these fears may now become reality, analysts told VICE News.
But just as devastating, analysts said, could be its impact on the future of trans-Atlantic relationship. By spurning the concerted, top-level pleas of European allies who were also signatories to the deal — France, Germany, and Britain — Trump may have sounded the death-knell for future European efforts at cooperation with his administration on the global stage.
Ellie Geranmayeh, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said that Washington’s split with Europe on the Iran nuclear deal was the greatest trans-Atlantic rift since the invasion of Iraq 15 years ago.
“A lot of people in Europe talk about the clash between the U.S. and Europe over this nuclear deal being as extensive as the clash over the 2003 invasion of Iraq — where it was a matter of global security, and where the Europeans ended up bearing the brunt of the cost of the destabilization of the Middle East,” she said.
Trump said that he had consulted with America’s allies before reaching his decision. But the decision will be received as a slap in the face to his allies, analysts said. Trump’s move to pull out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, signed in 2015 by the U.S., Iran, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, means he is abandoning a deal that took the U.S. and its partners years of painstaking negotiations to agree on, and is doing so despite concerted appeals from his European partners to find a solution.
He’s also ignoring the extraordinary diplomatic overtures these same allies made in recent months. Britain, France and Germany undertook a triple-pronged diplomatic offensive to persuade Trump to preserve the deal — one that they acknowledged was imperfect, but the international community’s best chance of keeping Iran’s nuclear ambitions in check.
Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel both made personal trips to the White House where they stated their case. Britain’s Johnson even appeared on Trump’s favorite morning program Fox & Friends Monday in hopes of reaching the president’s ear.
“It’s pretty unprecedented that you have the U.K., France, and Germany coordinating to such an extent to try to lobby and persuade the U.S.,” said Geranmayeh. “But despite their accommodation and their openness, the Europeans have essentially been shunned by the U.S. president.”
She said that the frantic European efforts to save the deal reflected deep strategic anxieties on the continent about further destabilization in the Middle East — a development that would be felt on Europe’s borders long before it registered in the United States.
“There’s a perception in Europe and the Middle East that the White House has given the green light for their allies to up the ante in terms of confrontation with Iran.”
“On a strategic level, the demise and collapse of the nuclear deal takes us one step closer to further destabilization in the Middle East,” she said. “The Europeans frankly don’t have an ocean between them and the Middle East like the U.S. does, and they have to deal with the consequences of escalation in the region.”
Merkel, Macron, and UK Prime Minster Theresa May released a joint statement Tuesday, expressing their "regret and concern" over Trump's decision and reasserting their commitment to the deal.
"Our governments remain committed to ensuring the agreement is upheld, and will work with all the remaining parties to the deal to ensure this remains the case including through ensuring the continuing economic benefits to the Iranian people that are linked to the agreement," the statement read.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani struck a similar tone, saying that Iran would continue in the nuclear deal without the U.S., Iranian state television reported, adhering to the agreement with the remaining signatories — Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany.
Despite Europe's apparent resolve to save the deal, Sanam Vakil, associate fellow at Chatham House, said the blow to trans-Atlantic relations jeopardized future European attempts at cooperation with the U.S. on the world stage. While European leaders favored multilateral solutions, they now had ample evidence — on top of Trump’s moves on climate change and trade —that such an approach was no longer likely to bear fruit under the Trump administration’s “America first” policy.
“They’ve taken the approach of trying to placate Trump rather than pushing back, and that response has failed,” she said. “The result is that this is going to create an unnecessary crisis for Europe.”
Trump’s withdrawal from the landmark agreement instead gives a green light to regional allies — most notably Israel and Saudi Arabia — to pursue greater confrontation with Iran, a posture that was already reflected in the rising Israeli aggression towards Iranian forces in Syria and political maneuvering by the Kingdom in Lebanon.
“The voices in the White House aren’t necessarily saying we need to strike Iran directly, but there’s a perception in Europe and the Middle East that the White House has given the green light for their allies to up the ante in terms of confrontation with Iran.”