Trump may be bluffing, but is the European Union just having a massive sulk? Could it all be resolved if a few EU leaders just gave the EU's foreign affairs office a little more respect?
When the so-called ‘Iran Deal’ was agreed upon in the summer of 2015, the EU had a bit of a problem with Federica Mogherini, its new foreign affairs lead. Catherine Ashdown, its previous foreign policy head insisted on being in the photos. I’m told Mogherini was livid that Ashdown would pull such a stunt, but in all fairness the British diplomat was right to take the lions’ share of the credit. She had after all played a pivotal role for six years with the Iranians, whereas Mogherini had only been in office for about a year and hadn’t quite got the hang of the etiquette, or the Iranians.
The ‘handbags at dawn’ scene is a comical one but a lucid reminder of how important the JCPOA deal was and is to the euro elite in Brussels. Mogherini considers it sacred.
Given that the EU, until 2015, hadn’t really any foreign policy forays under its belt, the Iran Deal is a big deal. It’s a milestone amongst the EU elite who—don’t laugh—dream of the day when the EU can ‘compete’ with the US on hegemony around the world.
Yet this delusional patch of geopolitical desire should not be ignored when we consider what is really going on in Brussels over Donald Trump’s announcement to walk away from the Iran Deal.
Mogherini and her officials have taken it very personally. Not only does it show how assiduously irrelevant Washington considers her office, but the former Italian foreign minister is fighting her own battle with France and Germany to take the EU’s dabbling in hegemony by numbers more seriously.
In four years, even the most sycophantic of gushing euro journalists in Brussels struggles to pin any achievements on Mogherini.
And so, despite having it handed to her on a plate by Ashdown, the Iran Deal was an accolade to Mogherini which she can parade to the Doubting Thomas’s of EU leaders who think that her 1 billion dollar a year office is a very good thing, as long as it doesn’t actually try and do stuff.
Mogherini’s credentials are at an all time low. Even Trump is not interested in even talking to her, and for Macron to effectively take the position of her job, when he visited the US president, must have almost felt like the ultimate slap in the face.
Not even EU leaders have much respect for Mogherini's office and some will be thinking now that the Iran Deal ignominy must be partly down to her.
If the EU is so determined to take credit for the JCPOA, surely they should take the blame for how things have turned out?
Critical to the deal and one which Trump’s speech almost touched on, is how the deal failed to guarantee any real financial thresholds for Tehran which was really hoping for a boost to its economy.
Secondly, what really irks Trump is not that Iran is testing ballistics, but more that a lot of the money handed back to them (that would be their own money which the US held, around $100 billion) was invested in upgrading Iran’s ballistics.
To roll back its nuclear program, would no doubt make Iran less threatening to Israel and Saudi Arabia; and so, perhaps naturally, Iran beefed up its ballistics program as a defence shield.
But now, despite Mogherini’s pleas to the other signatories to stay in the deal, she will soon be in the limelight like never before. Until now, most EU leaders were as likely to take her advice, as they would listen to a dentist with no teeth offering tips on oral hygiene.
Yet soon she will be seen as both part of the problem, and the solution to Trump’s bluff.
Mogherini is probably not happy with Macron reaching out directly to the Iranians and suggesting to them that they modify the deal to curb their ballistic missile program. But this is what the EU now has to do.
It’s the only sensible path as the end game could be a war in the Middle East, as a series of dominoes fall, when Iran begins to build nuclear weapons.
The EU’s role here is paramount.
Iran will not budge one inch on the final text without something in return, which is mainly because they don’t trust Trump at all, but also that the Iran Deal didn’t bring with it the financial rewards which were expected.
Fundamental to Trump’s threat is the EU supporting the sanctions. But Trump, a businessman apparently unburdened by the stigma of someone who actually lost a casino, is gambling on this premise. He has misjudged both the EU and Old Europe. Brussels will no doubt stick to the deal, but this is not important.
What is the crux of the matter is that EU member states, who put their trust in the EU, also refuse to be bullied by Trump and not only continue with the deal – but also allow their own industries to trade with Iran. Trump may well counter that by sanctioning those companies, particularly if they have factories in the US, but at a very heavy price: a potential trade war with the EU.
And so, there is no real dilemma for either Mogherini or Old Europe. Supporting Trump not only rubbishes the only, sole, EU foreign policy achievement, but can also usher in a new war in the Middle East which EU leaders will avoid at all costs.
Europe is stuck with the Iran Deal and its leaders know it, but Macron and others need to show some respect to Mogherini to convince her that EU cash to Iran is a win-win-win for the US, EU and Iran.
She may well be thinking that the money won’t be necessary and that the EU just keeping its end of the bargain will be enough as Trump’s move is in many ways a bluff.
Without the EU backing his sanctions entirely (by cutting trade with Iran), he is pushed into a corner where he will have to threaten Brussels with a trade war.
Trump probably hasn’t thought this through, but even his most stoic supporters in the Republican party aren’t going to thank him for boosting Iran’s position in the world, while also insulting America's biggest trading partner.
Mogherini should be careful what she dreams of but should also stop the euro-sulk as one day soon she will, no doubt, be in the picture.
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