EU Council President Donald Tusk said to the EU Commission head, Jean-Claude Juncker, “You said that the problem with Iran, in the past, and maybe today and tomorrow, is unpredictability. I think the real geopolitical problem is when you have not an unpredictable opponent, the problem is when your closest friend is unpredictable. It’s not a joke, this is the essence of our problem today on the other side of the Atlantic.”
Predictability seems to be the theme of the day. Donald Trump had said on the campaign trail that he thought the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear development was ‘the worst deal ever negotiated’, and that he would pull America out.
Trump said he would pull America out of the deal, and that’s precisely what he did, although in his leadup to that action, he preferred to leave the world in suspense about just what would do about it. True unpredictability from Trump would have been watching him break his word, where he says one thing and does another. Trump didn’t lie about ditching the Iran accord, he did just what he said he would do. And for some reason, this caught the Europeans by surprise.
It’s not that America is unreliable, in a sense, as Trump is a perfect example of a non seasoned politician, average patriotic American exceptionalist minded citizen getting elected into the White House. This is Democracy in action. The very concept of changing out your government, by its very definition, means that you possibly have a different administrative and foreign policy perspective every election cycle, and that’s just a fact of the system. If you don’t like it, blame the Russians, they put him in there, after all, or so the party line of the Democrats goes. Of course, that doesn’t make for very good diplomacy, and really isn’t very useful in a political world that is full of multilateral institutions.
Maybe it’s that the Europeans know that they’re dealing with a narcissist, and took his preaching about the 2015 multilateral agreement as a bunch of hot air, big talk just to inflate his self worth, not that he’d actually follow through on it. But when Trump says ‘go big or go home’, makes fantastic promises and such, he is showing that he can indeed be relied upon. No matter how outrageous it sounds, for him it seems perfectly reasonable, and that’s why when he says he’ll do something, you better get ready… just ask the Syrians.
The one party to the accord that one might argue has shown some level of unpredictability here is the Iranians, who have been passing on all of these threats about ‘serious consequences’, that would make Washington ‘regret’ their decision. Here Iran keeps saying that they are going to stick to the deal as long as the other parties do likewise, and have sent their foreign minister on a tour to communicate personally.
EU officials were saying back in February that they would stick with the Iran deal, and might bring back ‘blocking measures‘, dreamed up to combat Clinton’s anti-Cuba kick, to deal with reimposed economic sanctions. Now, in response to Trump’s decision, the EU is doing what it declared it could and would do: back up the Iran accord and implement blocking measures. France, which said that it would preserve the freedom of its economy to act in its own interests, is reiterating that sentiment now that the rubber is hitting the pavement, after a fashion.
The European Union’s 28 leaders came to Bulgaria this week to deepen ties with partners in the east. They left preparing defenses against allies in the west.
First thing on Friday morning, the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, will begin putting a so-called blocking statute in place to shield European companies doing business with Iran from U.S. sanctions. It’s the first time in more than two decades that the measure is being invoked.
The deepening rift in trans-Atlantic ties was the main takeaway from the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, where leaders rallied together in defense of the rules-based international system and vowed to confront President Donald Trump’s “capricious assertiveness.” The EU agreed to throw its weight behind the Iran deal that Trump quit and pledged to suspend trade talks with Washington until the bloc is granted an unlimited exemption from threatened steel and aluminum tariffs.
“We will not negotiate with the sword of Damocles hanging over our heads,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker told reporters on Thursday at the summit’s close. “It’s a matter of dignity.”
Europe’s mood is shifting from shock at Trump’s “America First” agenda to a resolve to assert its own position. Trans-Atlantic tensions came to a head with Trump’s decision to pull out of the landmark Iran nuclear accord which the remaining signatories — Russia, China, France, Germany and the U.K., along with the EU — all say is working.
The last time the EU threatened to use the blocking statute was in 1996, when Bill Clinton’s administration stood down and agreed to waive sanctions aimed at curbing foreign investment in Cuba, Iran and Libya.
The proposed EU actions are no guarantee that the accord can be salvaged, however, with the U.S. Treasury Department saying companies with existing contracts will have 90 to 180 days to extract themselves from their Iran dealings before becoming subject to penalties.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, warned that it wouldn’t be possible to shield entire industries from U.S. measures and said that she didn’t want to “encourage any illusions.” Juncker reiterated the stakes of standing up to the Americans, saying “we have to understand that the effects of the U.S. sanctions will be felt.”
The commission’s proposals on how to save the Iran accord were unanimously accepted by the EU leaders and included: keeping Iran’s oil and gas industry viable; allowing the European Investment Bank to facilitate investments in Iran; the creation of special purpose vehicles to allow for transactions between the regions; and protecting European companies that do business in the Middle Eastern nation.
French President Emmanuel Macron said that neither France nor the EU had any intention of imposing sanctions or counter-sanctions on U.S. companies over Iran, since his defense of the nuclear accord was based on concerns about security and stability, not commerce.
Neither will the French president force companies to stay in Iran at the risk of attracting U.S. sanctions, Macron said, adding that “the President of the Republic is not the director general of Total,” the only western energy major with investments in Iran.
While Europe looks for the right balance of tools to deploy against its U.S. ally, if any at all, the political will to defy Trump united the normally fractious bloc. EU President Donald Tusk set the tone for the summit on Wednesday when he asked rhetorically before a dinner with the leaders: “With friends like that, who needs enemies?”
“The real geopolitical problem is not when you have an unpredictable opponent or enemy or partner, the problem is if your closest friend is unpredictable,” Tusk said at the close on Thursday. “This is the essence of our problem today with our friends on the other side of the Atlantic.”
It’s true, Europe, America is your ally and all, but it’s not unfaithful to its word. All that stuff about America being exceptional and ‘America first’ actually does mean that America considers itself to be exceptional, Just look at how it breaks its agreements and international law on a regular basis. That’s perfectly fine for America, remember that it is exceptional. International law and binding agreements are something where the obligatory part of that ‘excepts’ America.
When you’re exceptional, the rules don’t apply to you, you make and break the rules at will, because you’re it, you’re the stuff, everybody wishes they were you, and you get to tell everyone else how it is and, in Nikki Haley’s words, ‘slap them around whenever you want to‘. So America, by backing out of its commitment on the Iran deal isn’t really being all that untrue, this is America, baby, it’s what we do.
Now, when American sanctions start bringing some ugly repercussions across the pond, we’ll see whether all of this tough talk from Europe is going hold water, or whether it’s just European projection: Europe talks tough on lots of stuff, but doesn’t always mean it, so when they see Trump talking tough, they don’t expect him to really mean it, follow it up with promised action.
Either way, however, a solid case does permit itself to be made representing a damaged transatlantic relationship coming out of all of this. Simultaneously, Trump’s threats against North Korea are leading to stalled peace talks, and some sort of talk on trade tariffs against China are currently underway. In each situation, Trump has America’s relationship with the rest of world in his hands, now what’s he going to do with it?