U.S. Mulls Repercussions for Europe’s Alliance With Iran

After Europe breaks with U.S. on Iran arms ban, diplomatic ties hit historic low

British prime minister Boris Johnson, German chancellor Angela Merkel, and French president Emmanuel Macron / Getty Images
August 27, 2020

Multiple European nations' diplomatic priorities may be on the line as the Trump administration examines a range of options to pressure these countries after their refusal to back the United States in its efforts to expand sanctions on Iran, according to current and former U.S. officials.

U.S. diplomats are seeking to force European allies to split with Iran and its allies, Russia and China. Multiple sources who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon outlined a range of European priorities the administration could leverage in this pressure campaign, including a free trade agreement sought by the British, increased coordination on Lebanon needed by the French, and a range of items the Germans have sought to revive ties with America. These sources spoke only on background about ongoing discussions in the administration about how to respond to Europe's intransigence on Iran.

Relations between the United States and its European allies are at historic lows following a failed vote at the United Nations Security Council earlier this month to indefinitely extend a ban on Iran's purchase of advanced weaponry. With the embargo set to lift in mid-October, the administration is now pushing to reimpose all sanctions on Tehran that were lifted under the nuclear deal—an effort that traditional allies France, Germany, and the United Kingdom publicly oppose. These European nations joined with Russia and China in opposing the United States.

Senior U.S. officials told the Free Beacon earlier this month that they are livid with Europe for abandoning America as it sought to extend the Iran weapons ban. The dispute spilled into public view on Tuesday, when U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Craft accused European allies of "standing in the company of terrorists." The administration shows no signs of backing down from the diplomatic fight, which is likely to elevate foreign policy issues in the lead up to the 2020 presidential election. U.S. ties to Europe have chilled in recent years due to the Trump administration's bid to pressure NATO allies into paying a greater share of the alliance's costs.

"The Europeans are clearly upset with the Americans for leaving the [Iran nuclear deal], but that doesn't seem like a good enough reason to essentially greenlight an influx of weapons to Iran," one U.S. diplomat familiar with discussions at the U.N. told the Free Beacon. "That's got to be quite difficult to explain to their citizens."

Trump administration allies in Congress remain angry with Europe and acknowledge that relations with the United States could crumble over the Iran dispute.

A spokesman for Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), an Iran hawk, said "the fecklessness shown over the last few weeks by Britain, France, and Germany will obviously and unfortunately complicate our relations."

"Sen. Cruz believes that America's allies should stand with us and not with Iran's regime that chants 'death to America' and wants to build nuclear weapons to incinerate American cities," the spokesman said.

To boost pressure on France, Germany, and the United Kingdom—the E3—the United States could move forward with plans to impose sanctions on a financial body known as INSTEX, which has been used by Europe to circumvent sanctions on Iran. The United States could also freeze assets and deny visas to European diplomats who work with INSTEX to help Iran gain access to cash assets, according to a former senior administration official familiar with the matter.

Trump administration officials are particularly outraged with U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson, who has been seeking a revamped free trade agreement with the United States that could be used as leverage in the Iran fight. The United States could also apply pressure on Johnson to rid Britain of China's Huawei on an earlier timetable than is currently being considered.

Germany and France are also seeking U.S. cooperation on several items, including Russia's contested Nord Stream 2 energy pipeline and a U.N. force agreement in Lebanon. France and the United States are reportedly on a "collision course" over the Lebanon deal due to American demands that the number of troops stationed in the country be reduced and that U.N. forces are granted access to areas where the Iranian terror group Hezbollah is believed to be operating.

Europe's alliance with Iran is not likely to end anytime soon. International nuclear inspectors working for the U.N. inked a new pact with Tehran this week that grants them permission to visit two contested nuclear sites that had long been off limits. This concession by Iran shores up Europe's continued commitment to the nuclear accord that was abandoned by President Donald Trump in 2018.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, during remarks in New York City last week after the failed U.N. vote, warned the E3 that its concessions to Iran endanger the continent.

"Our friends in Germany, France, and the United Kingdom—the E3—all told me privately that they don't want the arms embargo lifted either," Pompeo said. "And yet today, in the end, they provided no alternatives, no options. No country but the United States had the courage and conviction to put forward a resolution. Instead, they chose to side with ayatollahs. Their actions endanger the people of Iraq, of Yemen, of Lebanon, of Syria—and indeed, their own citizens as well."

Published under: Iran