Declining U.S./European Relations Following Iran Deal Withdrawal By Joshua Turner
European leaders have been thus far unable to know exactly what to make of President Donald Trump. Elected on a populist wave, touting slogans like "NATO is obsolete," demanding that European countries pay more for defense, and supportive of Brexit and Marine Le Pen, Trump has kept everyone guessing.
While President Emmanuel Macron of France has enjoyed a cordial relationship with the president (after some initial and awkward minute long handshakes), Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has endured much cooler relations, while British Prime Minister Theresa May has openly feuded on twitter over retweets involving a far right British Nationalist party and criticisms of how the United Kingdom handles terrorist threats.
But perhaps nothing has put these relationships to the test quite like the Iran Nuclear Agreement, which was reached during the Obama administration and was designed to lift sanctions on Iran in exchange for inspections on nuclear sites and an obligation to refrain from further development of nuclear weapons. This arrangement was beneficial for all sides; the United States could claim to have kept Iran’s nuclear ambitions at bay, Iran would get much needed sanctions relief, and Europe’s private sector would now be able to invest in Iran.
Despite Trump calling it ‘one of the worst deals of all time’,the administration certified the agreement and U.S. intelligence agencies reported that Iran was in compliance. Then a few things happened; Mike Pompeo, the former congressman and CIA director who has long despised the agreement (and Iran), was elevated to Secretary of State and John Bolton, a hardliner on all issues Iranian, was made the national security advisor. The men they replaced, Rex Tillerson and General McMaster respectively, were moderating voices. Pompeo and Bolton were clearly telling Trump what he wanted to hear and shortly thereafter the U.S. made its departure official.
This has put European leaders in a difficult position; go against their most important ally in the United States and continue to stay in the agreement or risk angering their own populations and business communities by re-imposing sanctions and discontinuing all business ties. This issue was put into stark reality when Bolton threatened secondary sanctions against European companies that continue to do business with Iran.
Macron, after an EU summit, declared that Europe would stay in the agreement and that measures would be taken to protect European businesses. Iran has also stated that it will stay in and abide by the agreement, as has Russia. This leaves the United States isolated from friend and foe alike, truly ‘going it alone.’ When combined with the United States leaving the Paris Climate Agreement there seems to be very little good will left among our allies.
European leaders are now facing a future bereft of United States leadership and have already begun to adjust, with Angela Merkel declaring that relations between the EU and U.S. have been setback and that Europe must “take its destiny into its own hands.”
Whatever the eventual conclusion, it is clear that the transatlantic relationship has been irrevocably altered and that a simple change of leadership here at home will not magically fix everything. Now that Europe has been forced to engage with the potential of a non-U.S. led West, they are unlikely to trust again so easily.
Joshua Turner is a Masters of International Relations candidate at American University and editor of The Hitch.