Reuters reported this week that the “E3” powers will propose a fresh round of EU sanctions on Tehran that keep the 2015 nuclear accord intact while addressing some of Iran’s regional activities and ballistic missile work the US believes were emboldened by the deal itself.
In January, Trump said that the E3 – the European powers party to the nuclear deal – has until mid-May to come up with fixes to the agreement.
“This is a last chance,” Trump warned them. “In the absence of such an agreement, the United States will not again waive sanctions in order to stay in the Iran nuclear deal. And if at any time I judge that such an agreement is not within reach, I will withdraw from the deal immediately.”
Trump’s secretary of state at the time, Rex Tillerson, promptly launched negotiations with the E3 hoping to find a way forward that would allow the US to keep its commitments under the nuclear deal while strengthening some of its core provisions. But Trump fired Tillerson last week, in part over his views on the deal and his handling of the talks.
“When you look at the Iran deal – I think it’s terrible,” Trump said. “I guess [Tillerson] thought it was okay. I wanted to either break it or do something, and he felt a little bit differently. So we were not really thinking the same. With [Trump’s intended replacement for Tillerson] Mike Pompeo, we have a very similar thought process.”
The E3, Iran and advocates of the nuclear deal in the US saw Tillerson’s firing as a harbinger of Trump’s ultimate withdrawal. And now they are wondering if there is any point in continuing negotiations.
Allies of the White House view the latest E3-sanctions proposal as short of what Washington called for in its January ultimatum. The Trump administration at that time not only called for new sanctions on Iran over its “maligning” regional behavior and ballistic missile program, but also a reopening of the nuclear deal itself – and a unilateral extension of its most controversial terms, beyond several key expiration dates set to arrive in 10 to 15 years.
Europe refuses to reopen the deal or to make unilateral alterations – actions that Tehran says will be treated as breaches of the accord.
Thus the EU believes that Trump has outlined two bars for success: either he will breach the agreement himself or the EU will be forced join him. But if Trump is forcing the deal’s failure, they will not be a part of it.