Why Europe Must Reject US Blackmail Over Iran’s Nuclear Agreement

Authored by ‘Moon of Alabama’,

The Trump administration has threatened to end the nuclear deal with Iran.

In our last post we argued in detail that the attempt of the European 3, the United Kingdom, France and Germany, to soothe Trump by condemning Iran’s ballistic missiles is itself a breach of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and the UN Security Council Resolution 2231.


The University of Alabama endorsed Moon of Alabama’s legal reasoning :-). Professor Daniel Joyner, author of several books on international law, non-proliferation and the nuclear deal with Iran, responded to the piece:

Dan Joyner @DanJoyner1 – 6:43 PM – 24 Jan 2018

Replying to @MoonofA

Hi, I enjoyed your post and agree with its analysis.

I examined 2231 in a chapter you can download here:

Iran’s Nuclear Program and International Law: From Confrontation to Accord, Chapter 7

I addressed the missile issue at pg. 240, and reached the same conclusion you do.

Ellie Geranmayeh, a member of the European Council of Foreign Relations (a U.S. aligned institution), is also defending the nuclear deal and warns against endorsing its breach. She argues in Foreign Policy that the Europeans should not soothe Trump but take a strong stand against any U.S. attempt to put Iran back into the bad corner:

Some European officials state in private that the best option is for Europe to muddle through in the hope that Trump will eventually shift his position. But muddling through just won’t do. Trump is likely to continue increasing his maximalist demands unless Europe flexes its political muscle.

In order to protect its economic and security interests, Europe must not only reject Trump’s ultimatum — which would be a kiss of death for the nuclear deal — but also push back. Europe should put in place a viable contingency plan if the United States continues backtracking on the deal and let Washington know it’s ready to use it.

The author puts forward a four point plan which would indemnify European companies which are dealing with Iran but threatened by secondary U.S. sanctions:

Put simply, EU officials must tell Trump: If you fine our companies’ assets in the United States, we will reclaim those costs by penalizing U.S. assets in Europe. This would cause a major trade conflict that the Europeans want to avoid by all means. But the option and the precedent exist.

Pressing Iran on the ballistic missile issue leads to a dead end, and possibly a new conflict that is not in European interest. Europe should  therefore address that issues on a wider, regional base:

[I]n recent months France and Germany have reportedly both pressed for the EU to introduce new sanctions targeting Iran’s missile program. This approach is unlikely to persuade Tehran to negotiate over its missile program. Nor are such steps likely to gain support from China and Russia as the nuclear-related sanctions did. This is especially true now due to rising U.S.-Iranian tensions and increasing Western arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel. A more pragmatic approach would be for the EU to facilitate a dialogue with all regional powers with the goal of limiting the range of ballistic missiles and their transfer under existing international arms control regimes.

Possibly later this week a U.S. delegation will meet with European diplomats to talk about the way forward. Britain, pressed with a Brexit scenario, is probably the most inclined to follow the U.S. line:

“I’d say there was a pretty wide measure of agreement on the European side about the need to look at what Iran is doing on the ballistic missile front and to work out what we can do collectively to constrain that activity and to make a big difference there,” [British Foreign Secretary Boris] Johnson said at a meeting with [U.S. Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson on Monday. “And we think we can do that; we think we can do that together. But as Rex says, it’s important we do that in parallel and don’t vitiate the fundamentals of the Iran nuclear deal, and we’re sure we can do that.”

Johnson and others are wrong with this.

There is no reasonable case at all to (solely) address Iranian ballistic missiles when Saudi Arabia, Israel and the U.S. (also Pakistan) all have ballistic missiles pointed at Iran. Tehran will rightfully reject any such talks. Addressing Iran’s ballistic missiles in the framework of JCPOA and UNSCR 2231 is a breach of the resolution which had lifted all limits on Iran’s missile activities. The only chance to talk about ballistic missiles at all is within a much wider framework.

The EU-3 should follow the advice given by Ellie Geranmayeh and prepare for an economic confrontation with the U.S. over the nuclear deal. It is clearly the U.S. which is in breach of the deal and which rejects the UNSC resolution it had earlier supported.

If the Europeans do not hold up the case, Trump will notice that the EU folds even under mild pressure. He will use that experience to push other cases and will attempt to blackmail the EU over and over again.

The involved politicians should also recognize that opposing Trump is a domestic winner in Europe where his approval rates are at a record low. There will be no lack of backing for harder line policies.

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