Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

Tillerson’s Sacking ‘Complicates’ European Mediation in Iran Nuclear Deal

Tillerson’s Sacking ‘Complicates’ European Mediation in Iran Nuclear Deal

Friday, 16 March, 2018 - 09:30
Sacked US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. (AP)
Paris - Michel Abou Najm

The sacking of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will “complicate” European efforts to resolve the crisis over the Iranian nuclear deal and increase the likelihood that US President Trump will withdraw from it by mid-May, said European diplomatic sources.

They told Asharq Al-Awsat on Thursday that Tillerson’s dismissal “will have very negative consequences in the near future” on the efforts of a European-American committee that was formed to “improve” the conditions of the nuclear agreement.

Trump had threatened to cancel the deal if the committee failed in its objective. He also threatened to impose sanctions on Iran, especially on its oil and gas sectors.

Tillerson’s departure however has returned the committee’s efforts back to square one, said the sources.

They wondered whether his exit from the political scene also means a change in American demands regarding the deal. Washington had called on Iran to allow immediate inspections at all sites requested by international inspectors. “Sunset” provisions imposing limits on Iran’s nuclear program must not expire and US law must tie long-range missile and nuclear weapons programs together, making any missile testing by Iran subject to “severe sanctions.”

Europe does not face difficulties from the US alone, but Iran also does not appear “prepared” to facilitate its mission, particularly the French one. This was revealed by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s failed visit to Tehran earlier this month. Paris had not expected major progress to be made over the US demands during his visit, but none of the participants at the talks noted any “openness” by Iranian officials over his proposals.

In fact, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif told Le Drian to exert pressure on the US, not Iran, because it does not respect the nuclear deal.

Le Drian’s Tehran visit was also reportedly aimed at preparing for an upcoming trip by French President Emmanuel Macron. Sources from the Elysee palace had repeatedly said however that he will not travel to Tehran if no progress is made over pending files.

It is no secret that Macron had wanted to play the role of mediator between Washington and Tehran and the nuclear file will be among the main issues that he will bring up with US President Donald Trump during his official visit to the US in April. It will also be discussed with President Vladimir Putin when he visits Russia in May. The successive developments in Washington and their expected escalation will however likely render Macron’s efforts “pointless.”

European circles believed that Tillerson, even though he was not part of Trump’s inner circle, was to a great extent, the voice of reason. They said that he had complained to his European counterparts of the discrepancies between him and Trump over foreign policy. This consequently led to confusion in European diplomacy in determining whether Tillerson’s stances reflected those of the American administration or his own personal ones.

Perhaps the appointment of Mike Pompeop, whose stances largely coincide with Trump’s, as new secretary of state will help resolve this European confusion.

At any rate, Europe will most probably retain its stance on the main Iranian files. It will remain committed to defending the nuclear deal, which it sees as the “best” agreement that bars the proliferation of nuclear weapons and prevents a nuclear arms race in the Gulf region.

Iran meanwhile will interpret Tillerson’s departure as Washington’s determination to continue to back away from the nuclear deal. This is reflected in the hardening of Tehran’s stances, which were already stringent to begin with.

The general consensus in Iran is “if Washington withdraws from the deal, then so will we.” In line with this view, Tehran has started to hold the European mediator more and more responsible for keeping the deal alive in regards to convincing the US against abandoning it.

Europe therefor now finds itself caught between the American-Iranian tensions. Despite this however, efforts are still being exerted to find middle ground between them and diplomacy has a way of coming up with solutions even when faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges.

Editor Picks