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Europe Tests the Boundaries on Iran

A New Trade Vehicle Could Preserve the Nuclear Deal’s Core Bargain

An Iranian flag flutters in front of the United Nations headquarters, during an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors meeting in Vienna, March 2015. Heinz-Peter Bader / REUTERS

On January 31, 2019, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom announced their most substantive move yet to save the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, to which they are signatories, from collapse. With the European Union’s blessing, the three states established a special channel that shields trade with Iran from U.S. sanctions. The Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges, or INSTEX, as the channel is called, holds out the possibility that Europe can yet salvage the nuclear agreement’s core bargain: that Iran was to limit its nuclear activities in return for the normalization of economic relations. The preservation of this arrangement will depend not only on the modicum of European-Iranian trade that INSTEX might help preserve but on whether Europe can navigate a narrow path between what Iran expects and what the United States can tolerate.

President Donald Trump’s decision in May 2018 to withdraw from the nuclear deal, formally known as

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