National Security Advisor John Bolton said during an interview this weekend that the U.S. may sanction European companies that continue to do business with Iran in the wake of the U.S.’ withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement.
“Is the United States going to sanction European companies that do business with Iran?” Bolton was asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper Sunday morning. “I think the Europeans will see that it’s in their interest ultimately to come along with us.”
When pressed further, Bolton said the U.S. would have to wait and see. “The answer is it’s possible, it depends on the conduct of other governments.”
At issue is whether sanctions imposed by the U.S. alone would be enough to force the Iranian government to renegotiate the agreement. President Trump wants to see the deal expanded to include Iran’s non-nuclear, ballistic missile program as well as their alleged state sponsoring of terror in places like Syria, Yemen and Lebanon addressed. Iran has vowed not to renegotiate.
The U.S. European allies as well as China and Russia are wondering what comes next.
“I have no difficulty whatever with that goal; the question is, how does the US propose to achieve it?” British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said of renegotiating the deal with Iran to British Parliament.
“Now that the Trump Administration have left the JCPOA, the responsibility falls on them to describe how they, in Washington, will build a new negotiated solution to our shared concerns—a settlement that must necessarily include Iran, China and Russia, as well as countries in the region.”
Supporters of the U.S.’ withdrawal are not sure the U.S. going it alone on sanctions will be enough to force Iran to deal.
“After years of appeasing religious fascists ruling Iran, at great cost to the Iranian people and their resistance movement, [the] President of the United States has withdrawn the United States from the nuclear deal with Iran,” said Dr. Majid Sadeghpour, Political Director for Organization of Iranian-American Communities (OIAC) in a statement to ITN.
Only democratic change in Iran can bring about a real end to Iran’s nuclear program. “Ending Iranian regime’s nuclear threat and terrorism will only be achieved when the clerical regime, in its entirety, is removed from power.”
“I always believed that the JCPOA deal with Iran was an ill-conceived arrangement…Hence I am happy that the Trump Administration abandoned the Iran agreement,” said Jeffrey Bale, Associate Professor at the Graduate School of International Policy and Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, and an expert on Middle Eastern history and politics.
“Having said that, there are really no good options for dealing with the Iranian regime, although imposing heavier sanctions to squeeze and inhibit it is arguably preferable to either appeasement or taking military action.”
Perhaps the biggest skeptics are those intimately familiar with the crafting of the original Iran deal.
“If the rest of the P5+1 don’t go along, then they won’t be effective at all. Between them, the EU and the Chinese probably have the lion’s share of Iran’s foreign business. So, their noncooperation would be significant,” said Richard Nephew, Senior Research Scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, and former Principal Deputy Coordinator for Sanctions Policy at the State Department from 2013 to 2015.
“But ‘don’t go along’ has a wide margin in it. Does this mean ‘actively evade?’ or ‘will just stay out of it, while giving no political cover to their businesses?’ If the former, then the impact will be even more marginal. If the latter, then companies may yet withdraw from Iran out of their own economic interest.”
Nephew was the lead sanctions expert for the U.S. team negotiating with Iran on the JCPoA, the official name of the Iran nuclear deal in diplomatic circles.
Will a lack of solidarity on the sanctions front make less likely Iran comes back to the negotiating table?
“I think that this Administration will never get Iran back to the negotiating table. I think it may be hard for the Rouhani government itself to ever go back to the table…It may even require the Supreme Leader to pass before the Iranians are willing to expose themselves again, unless the United States were to back down now,” Nephew told ITN.
“There is simply too much bad blood and lack of confidence/trust on the Iranian side in the United States.”
According to the Department of State, newly-confirmed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with his British, French and German counterparts in recent days, and while there is wide agreement on the need to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, there didn’t seem to be any actionable steps agreed to on what to do next.
“The Secretary highlighted the good work that we have done over the past several months to address our common threats and said that he is hopeful we can continue strong cooperation moving forward,” is all State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said about the talks.
Photo by U.S. Department of State via Flickr