Middle East allies welcome new Iran strategy, Europe and Russia not convinced

The Trump administration is facing an uphill struggle to convince key US allies in Europe to join him in putting pressure on Iran.

2017/10/15 Issue: 127 Page: 3

The Arab Weekly
Thomas Seibert

Washington- If US President Donald Trump’s uncompromising speech on Iran was meant as a rallying cry to forge a broad international con­sensus to confront what he calls the “fanatical regime” in Tehran, it was a failure.

While Iran’s rivals in the Middle East applauded Trump’s initiative, his administration is facing an uphill struggle to convince key US allies in Europe to join him in putting pres­sure on Iran.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he expected talks with US allies about additional measures against Iran to last several months. “It’s in all of our interests to work together,” he said. “I fully expect that our allies and friends in Europe and in the re­gion are going to be very supportive in efforts undertaken to deal with Iran’s threats.”

US allies in the Middle East wel­comed the president’s new ap­proach, which seeks to force Iran to abandon efforts to develop ballistic missiles and to end support for Hez­bollah in Lebanon and the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Israeli Prime Minis­ter Binyamin Netanyahu spoke of an opportunity to fix the “bad” nuclear agreement between the international community and Iran and Saudi Ara­bia praised Trump’s “commitment to working with allies in the region in order to face common challenges, particularly Iran’s aggressive policies and actions.”

The United Arab Emirates took a similar line, pointing out that the nuclear deal had “only emboldened Iran to intensify its provocative and destabilising behaviour.” The UAE also described the US Treasury De­partment’s designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as “a strong measure that will help limit Iran’s dangerous activities as the world’s leading state-sponsor of terrorism.”

Bahrain, which has accused Iran of being behind the 2011-13 protests among its Shia population, wel­comed all efforts aimed at prevent­ing Tehran from financing “terrorist militias.”

While governments in Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain hardly needed encouragement to take a hard line towards Tehran, other countries, whose support would be crucial, re­sponded in much cooler tones.

In an unusual show of European unity towards Trump’s hard-line approach, the leaders of France, Germany and the United Kingdom issued a joint statement saying they would stand by the international nu­clear deal, an agreement that Trump says is one of the worst accords ever negotiated.

French President Emmanuel Ma­cron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May said the agreement served their national security inter­ests. They praised the Iran accord as “the culmination of 13 years of diplo­macy” and “a major step towards en­suring that Iran’s nuclear programme is not diverted for military purposes.”

Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, warned Trump that the agreement with Iran “is not a bilater­al agreement” that could be torn up by the United States. “It is clearly not in the hands of any president of any country in the world to terminate an agreement of this sort,” she said.

Russia, which negotiated the nu­clear deal with the United States, China, the European Union, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, also poured cold water on Trump’s plan to get tough with Iran by impos­ing new economic sanctions. Rus­sian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the US president’s stance was “extremely troubling.” No response from China was imme­diately available.

Trump critics in the United States said he is leading the country into international isolation with his Iran strategy, which follows his decision to pull the United States out of an in­ternational climate deal and to cancel American participation in a planned trans-Pacific free trade zone. A day before the Iran strategy announce­ment, the United States said it was leaving UNESCO, the UN cultural organisation. “We’re withdrawing as global leader under Trump,” Nicho­las Burns, a former US undersecre­tary of state, said on Twitter.

Former US Secretary of State John Kerry, one of the architects of the Iran deal, said in a statement that Trump’s approach was “dangerous” and “creating an international crisis.” Kerry said if the United States turned away from the agreement, “you will call into question whether our coun­try can keep its word.”

Thomas Seibert is an Arab Weekly contributor in Istanbul.

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