Iranian Moment of Truth
October 18, 2017
President Trump’s decertification of the Iran nuclear
deal is kicking up a mini-panic in Europe. The Continent’s leaders warn that
Mr. Trump’s move could undermine trans-Atlantic relations, and that no U.S.
President can unilaterally walk away from the deal. But Europe was overdue for a
moment of truth on Iran, and Mr. Trump is providing one.
Europeans embraced the deal even before the final agreement
was signed in 2015. Business trips to Tehran started under the pre-2015 interim
agreement, and France opened Europe’s first trade office in the Iranian
capital barely two months after the final deal was struck. Airbus
has agreed to sell billions of euros’ worth of commercial planes to Iran.
Germany’s chemical and machine-tools industries have cashed in with deals.
French and German auto makers have signed agreements to export cars to Iran or
make them there. And oil and gas companies across Europe are piling in.
We warned that it would only be a matter of time before a
“pro-Iran commercial lobby resurfaces in Europe,” and here it is. The damage
new sanctions would do to many European firms is at the heart of complaints
about a trans-Atlantic rift after Mr. Trump’s decertification. But Europeans
should have known better than to believe President Obama’s promises about the
deal’s staying power in the U.S.
Mr. Obama never submitted the deal to the Senate for
ratification as a treaty to cement support for it in Washington, since he knew
it wouldn’t pass. That was a clue for Europe. British firms picked up on the
signals and have been notably slower to strike new Iranian deals, fearing that
Washington could reimpose sanctions.
The question for Europe is whether to double down on its
investment of political capital and its own credibility in a deal Washington
increasingly scorns and whose spirit Tehran habitually violates. The main
trans-Atlantic crisis that could emerge will be if London, Paris and
Berlin—the three EU governments that co-signed the 2015 deal—conclude that
business interests with Tehran are more important than helping Washington
enforce counter-proliferation measures.
The better option is to work with Washington instead of
fighting it. French President Emmanuel Macron has spoken of revisiting the
nuclear deal’s 2025 sunset clauses. The three EU signatories can also join
Washington in demanding that Tehran allow inspections of military sites by the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) under the deal.
European officials currently claim Iran is abiding by the
nuclear agreement, but they can’t possibly know if Tehran resists inspections
of military sites. Addressing this shortcoming will require Europe to stand up
to Iran’s Russian enablers.
Despite denunciations from Europe, Mr. Trump has given U.S.
allies time to develop a plausible replacement for the current deal. Leaders
such as Mr. Macron should heed their better strategic instincts rather than
their angry business lobbies and join Washington in crafting an approach to Iran
that makes the Middle East—and Europe—more secure.