How Trump's Iran drama could upend European unity

With the minutes ticking down until the world learns whether President Trump will pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, ...

Posted: May 8, 2018 2:11 PM
Updated: May 8, 2018 2:11 PM

With the minutes ticking down until the world learns whether President Trump will pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, it's worth asking the question: why did Trump decide to bring his announcement forward so dramatically?

The announcement comes in the immediate aftermath of a flurry of European diplomacy. His decision may divide America from its European partners, France, Germany and the UK. And what happens next could further divide these nations, too.

If he opts to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action -- as many diplomats fear he will -- it won't be the first time he has disregarded the wishes of his allies. Rejecting the Paris climate agreement, imposing trade tariffs and recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel are just a few of Trump's detours from the desires of America's friends.

So, does Trump see the Iran deal not only as a lever to crack open the Middle East and reassert some American sway lost over the Obama years, but also as an opportunity to reshape relations with Europe?

Trump bridles at European unity. He has previously predicted that others will follow Britain out of the EU. And now, he could get to watch further fissures develop as Europeans scramble to salvage post-JCPOA business deals with Iran without earning Trump's ire.

The latest diplomatic intervention in DC saw Boris Johnson, the UK's Foreign Secretary, arriving in the final hours before we learn of Trump's decision.

In his opening salvo, an op-ed in the New York Times, the British Foreign Secretary quoted Winston Churchill.

Churchill famously discoursed across the Atlantic with President Franklin Roosevelt, encouraging the US to support Britain it its battle against Nazi Germany.

Johnson appears to hope that invoking Churchill will persuade another US President to agree with the UK when it comes to defeating their current shared scourge: Iran.

If that's Johnson's plan, he won't be the first diplomat to tempt Trump's ego. France's President, Emmanuel Macron, did that last summer. He invited Trump for a Michelin-starred meal inside the Eiffel Tower amid the pomp of France's Bastille Day celebrations.

When Johnson appeared on "Fox and Friends" later on Monday, he was at pains not to antagonize Trump.

His first words: "The President is right to see flaws in it [the Iran deal] and he set a very reasonable challenge to the world: Iran is behaving badly."

But the bar was high. Macron beat him to that punch almost two weeks ago. While in DC, Macron declared: "We therefore wish from now on to work on a new deal."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel flew into DC a few days after Macron's visit.

Both appear to have concluded that Trump won't settle for the status quo on Iran.

Macron, Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May have exchanged several calls since then. They have indicated, for now at least, that they will stand by the Iran deal. However, they do appear willing to work with Trump on a tougher inspections regime and say that they share his concerns about Iran's destabilizing influence in the Middle East.

As Johnson arrived in Washington, the French and German Foreign Ministers were meeting in Berlin. Both sounded downbeat about averting Trump's anticipated decision. Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said: "We will see what the US decides, but we see no real alternatives."

Iran's Foreign Minister, Javid Zarif, thinks that the Europeans are being browbeaten by Trump: "This appeasement entails promises on a new deal that include matters we decided to exclude at the outset of our negotiations."

The leaders of Europe's three most powerful nations have all faced the indignity of a Trump moment in one form or another -- causing embarrassment at home. (Holding May's hand; not shaking hands with Merkel; flicking dandruff from Macron's shoulder.)

Each incident is a curious consequence of associating with a man lacking in nuanced diplomacy.

But what Britain, France and Germany clearly feel is that the consequences of Trump's Iran decision will be far greater than he realizes. "The world is safer with the treaty than without it," Maas said in Berlin.

Yet while these three European powers stand firm in apparent unity so far, their own actions -- and motivations -- also appear curious.

Macron, who was first to advocate changes to the deal following his meetings with Trump, then Merkel and then Johnson all appeared to reach the same conclusion.

It raises the question: are they acting in concert or each playing Trump their own tune?

By invoking Churchill, Johnson will have hoped to remind President Trump of the "Special Relationship" that Churchill kindled between the US and UK to overcome Hitler's threat.

It wouldn't be a stretch -- especially as the UK leaves the EU -- that in the face of "Le Bromance," Johnson is trying to hold onto Churchill's legacy as the most favored friend of the US.

But has Johnson considered that he -- along with the rest -- is being played?

By default or design, Trump is reshaping the world. His decision on Iran threatens to accelerate the process and render some of it irreversible.

By potentially upending the deal and straining European nations' individual business interests in Iran, is Trump leveraging rivalries, to diminish the EU's overall economic clout?

After all, as Merkel keeps reminding Trump, every time he talks to her about a trade imbalance with Germany, it's the EU -- not Germany -- that sets the trade relation with her country.

Having suspended steel and aluminum trade tariffs on the EU until a few weeks after his decision on the Iran deal, Trump may be adding another fact in European leaders' decision making.

Trump's instincts could be telling him that whatever it is he wants from Europe in the future, opening fissures over Iran might just help reach that outcome.

Terre Haute
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 68°
Robinson
Clear
62° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 62°
Indianapolis
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 67° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 64°
Rockville
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 61°
Casey
Clear
67° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 67°
Brazil
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 68°
Marshall
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 68°
Clear & Cool
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Cases: 1605320

Reported Deaths: 27132
CountyCasesDeaths
Cook61354910964
DuPage1039171357
Will873121089
Lake771121060
Kane65888850
Winnebago39007544
Madison38143576
St. Clair35003569
McHenry33032316
Peoria25972362
Champaign25862182
Sangamon24588271
McLean21879207
Tazewell19736326
Rock Island17806344
Kankakee16784234
Kendall15459106
LaSalle14496275
Macon14478240
Vermilion13234189
Adams12695148
DeKalb11667128
Williamson11419157
Whiteside7897176
Jackson769188
Boone760082
Coles7341112
Ogle713486
Grundy701281
Franklin686899
Clinton681498
Knox6651164
Marion6547138
Macoupin646399
Henry620474
Jefferson6060132
Effingham604382
Livingston571295
Woodford554291
Stephenson546289
Randolph529297
Monroe508199
Christian491780
Fulton487970
Morgan487296
Logan477474
Montgomery467476
Lee458156
Bureau427188
Perry415171
Saline409263
Fayette398956
Iroquois394673
McDonough354956
Jersey322253
Shelby311843
Douglas306636
Crawford304130
Lawrence301131
Union296747
Wayne274057
White265930
Richland262054
Hancock256334
Pike255956
Cass250928
Clark250738
Bond244024
Clay240047
Ford235256
Edgar234744
Carroll225437
Warren224960
Johnson213524
Moultrie211831
Jo Daviess206126
Washington206127
Wabash200915
Greene200739
Mason199351
Massac198144
De Witt195530
Piatt190814
Mercer190634
Cumberland178325
Menard158612
Jasper152418
Marshall134721
Hamilton128821
Brown10178
Pulaski98311
Schuyler9688
Edwards96315
Stark76827
Gallatin7435
Scott6975
Alexander67611
Henderson65114
Calhoun6442
Hardin56013
Putnam5444
Pope4815
Unassigned1882432
Out of IL40

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Cases: 941120

Reported Deaths: 15315
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1282511983
Lake633041097
Allen53609758
Hamilton43827447
St. Joseph41906590
Elkhart33545490
Vanderburgh30383448
Tippecanoe26820249
Johnson23609417
Hendricks22250341
Porter21737346
Clark17409229
Madison17366384
Vigo16108281
Monroe14466191
LaPorte14311239
Delaware14070221
Howard13865272
Kosciusko11418135
Hancock10841165
Warrick10674177
Bartholomew10542168
Floyd10430205
Wayne9959226
Grant9130204
Morgan8865160
Boone8389111
Dubois7710123
Dearborn762289
Henry7608130
Noble7413101
Marshall7362128
Cass7176117
Lawrence6957153
Shelby6584111
Jackson656785
Gibson6156107
Harrison603786
Huntington600195
Montgomery5805105
DeKalb574291
Knox5494104
Miami542488
Putnam536768
Clinton533665
Whitley524953
Steuben497268
Wabash483592
Jasper479160
Jefferson470092
Ripley454277
Adams444068
Daviess4169108
Scott405865
White391857
Clay390857
Greene388392
Decatur385296
Wells384983
Fayette374278
Posey359941
Jennings353156
Washington332047
LaGrange321375
Spencer317835
Fountain316555
Randolph312888
Sullivan307449
Owen283863
Starke280064
Fulton277553
Orange275859
Jay254837
Perry251652
Carroll243729
Franklin239338
Rush234130
Vermillion233250
Parke219820
Tipton209655
Pike207639
Blackford168334
Pulaski163551
Crawford146018
Newton144345
Benton142516
Brown135346
Martin128217
Switzerland125810
Warren114616
Union96911
Ohio79711
Unassigned0479