Can Europe Save the Iran Deal?

Time for It to Consider a Plan B

Dark clouds are seen over Palais Coburg, the venue for nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria, July 9, 2015. Leonhard Foeger / Reuters

On January 12, the administration of Donald Trump bought the United States four additional months to decide whether it would remain in the nuclear deal with Iran. In reissuing the sanctions waivers, the White House held to the agreement’s terms, but used the opportunity to impose new sanctions and to threaten withdrawal from the accord if Congress and Europe failed to amend it by May 12. This approach has injected a high degree of uncertainty over whether the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) will survive, meanwhile placing the burden of action on the deal’s other signatories, particularly Europe. There is no need, however, for Europe to give in to Trump’s ultimatum. This waiting period buys it time to encourage the United States to remain in the deal while readying itself for an alternate plan: keeping the accord alive regardless of how Washington acts.

Europe, with which Iran has nearly doubled trade in the past year, arguably holds the key to keeping the deal together. Although it cannot persuade everyone in Washington, it can persuade many of them to stay faithful to U.S. commitments. What Trump has made clear is that for Washington to remain in the deal, Congress and Europe would need to remove or extend what are known as the “sunset clauses,” or expiration dates for certain restrictions on Iranian nuclear activities. (Without them, Iran would otherwise never have agreed to the deal, and the dates are also far enough in the future to buy sufficient time for a follow-on agreement.) Trump is also pushing for UN nuclear inspectors to gain unhindered access to Iran’s military facilities and for sanctions to be slapped onto activities currently not covered by the JCPOA, such as Iran’s ballistic missile program. Doing so, particularly unilaterally, would essentially violate the deal.

In the past three months, European countries have lobbied both the Trump administration and Congress to convince them that a stronger pact cannot be built

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