Hours before a key decision by US President Donald Trump on Iran, Germany and its European allies are appealing to the United States to preserve the nuclear accord with Tehran because the alternative might lead to nuclear weapons being developed.
“We agree on this approach, we want to protect the deal against every possible decision that might undermine it,” German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said in Brussels. “It is absolutely necessary to have this to prevent the development of nuclear weapons at a time when other parts of the world are discussing how to get them” - a clear reference to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
Mr. Gabriel met in Brussels with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as well as French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson and the European Union’s chief diplomat, Federica Mogherini, in a well-choreographed European effort to persuade Mr. Trump to uphold the pact.
We want better economic development for Iran in return for abandoning nuclear weapons. Sigmar Gabriel, German Foreign Minister
"The deal is working; it is delivering on its main goal, which means keeping the Iranian nuclear program in check and under close surveillance," Ms. Mogherini said.
Mr. Trump has to certify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear accord every 90 days and issue a waiver to enable US sanctions to stay suspended. The president refused to certify the deal in November, essentially passing the buck to Congress.
US officials told the Associated Press on Wednesday that Mr. Trump was expected to extend the lifting of the sanctions for another four months, but might also impose new sanctions on businesses associated with Iran’s ballistic missile program. The US still maintains sanctions on Iran related to terrorism, human rights or ballistic missile development. These sanctions are separate from those covered under the international nuclear deal with Iran, which Mr. Trump vocally opposes.
Mr. Gabriel said Thursday that there are no signs that Iran is not implementing the accord. “As long as that is not the case, there is no reason to question…the dismantling of nuclear-related sanctions.”
In an effort to extend the olive branch to Mr. Trump, the French foreign minister agreed that Iran’s ballistic missile program was a concern. But he said that it should not cause of the end of the nuclear deal.
According to Western intelligence, Tehran would be able to build a nuclear weapon within a year of the pact being scrapped. Israel has said that it could not permit that development, raising concern about a possible Israeli military strike in Iran.
Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi set a hardline tone over Mr. Trump’s decision. “If the US terminates the agreement, we will reconsider our cooperation with the Atomic Energy Agency,” he said in Tehran.
Trying to sound conciliatory, Mr. Gabriel said Iran should benefit more from the easing of sanctions. There have been widespread street demonstration in Iran over economic conditions. “We want better economic development for Iran in return for abandoning nuclear weapons,” he said.
Mr. Gabriel, who is acting foreign minister in the caretaker German government, has stepped up his attacks on the Trump administration in recent days. “Legal certainty for the German economy cannot depend on it submitting to American competitive conditions,” Mr. Gabriel told a business group in Berlin. “We must not submit to American rules.”
While Mr. Gabriel represents the junior partner in coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel, there is a broad consensus in Germany to keep trading with Iran, in part because it helps German business but also because they believe it strengthens moderates in the Iranian regime.
German exports to Iran have risen from €2.6 billion ($3 billion) to €3.5 billion in 2017, while France’s exports have doubled, according to the Tehran Chamber of Commerce.
Mathias Brüggmann is head of the Handelsblatt's foreign desk, Moritz Koch covers US affairs, and Charles Wallace is an editor for Handelsblatt Global in New York. To contact the authors: [email protected], [email protected], and [email protected]