European leaders were prepared to give President Trump exactly what he wanted in terms of a buffed up Iran nuclear deal when the U.S. president decided to violate the agreement anyway, the Associated Press reported on Thursday.
According to the outlet, which spoke with a number of White House and State Department officials, foreign diplomats, and outside advisers, Trump — who has been promising to scrap the landmark Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) since he first launched his presidential campaign in June 2015 — had requested a number of demands intended to “toughen” the deal, to which European allies had eventually agreed. The specific language was reportedly being worked out when Trump chose to announce the U.S. withdrawal on Wednesday.
Three major U.S. allies — including Germany, the United Kingdom, and France — had already acquiesced to two of Trump’s biggest demands: “new penalties on Iran’s ballistic missile inspections [and] expanded access for U.N. nuclear inspectors.” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had come to Washington, D.C. armed with a solution to Trump’s third demand, an “extension of the restrictions on Iran’s enrichment beyond the current life of the deal.”
The JCPOA currently limits Iran’s development of centrifuges until 2025, and its uranium enrichment until 2030. Johnson had reportedly suggested that although these “sunset” clauses are immovable, foreign leaders could instead extend supervision of “Iran’s civil nuclear needs” to ensure that the nation “stayed within the bounds and didn’t approach a bomb.”
Under the limits of the JCPOA, Iran was already estimated to be at least one year away from being able to produce enough nuclear material for a bomb, but European leaders had also agreed that some sort of wording about this could be put in a supplemental agreement.
“[European leaders had] conceded that some expectation could be put into place in perpetuity that Iran should never get closer than one year from building a bomb. All that was left was to figure out creative language for how that constraint would be phrased that everyone could support,” the AP reported.
“We all played our part in helping the Trump administration maximize the pressure on North Korea, a strategy that now appears to be bearing fruit,” Johnson wrote in a New York Times op-ed Sunday. “We share the same concerns about Iran. I believe we are very close to a position that would address President Trump’s concerns and strengthen trans-Atlantic unity.”
Johnson’s attempts at bridging the remaining gaps were reportedly not enough. By Monday afternoon, Trump had tweeted that an announcement on the JCPOA was imminent. By Tuesday afternoon, the president had announced he would violate the deal altogether, against the wishes of close U.S. allies.
According to the AP, Trump had not warned his international counterparts of his decision beforehand.
“France, Germany, and the UK regret the U.S. decision to leave the JCPOA,” French President Emanuel Macron tweeted Tuesday. Macron had previously urged Trump, during a joint press conference in Washington, not to violate the agreement, saying he did “not want to repeat the mistakes of the past,” although he later admitted that the U.S. president would likely break from the deal anyway to please his supporter base.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian took a more aggressive tone, calling Trump’s decision “isolationist, protectionist and unilateral logic,” but adding that France would continue to uphold its end of the deal.
“The deal is not dead. There is an American withdrawal from the deal but the deal is still there,” he told RTL Radio Wednesday evening.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Trump’s decision meant European leaders would need to step up. “I think yesterday showed us that we in Europe will have to take more responsibility,” she told a group of Cabinet members Wednesday. “Germany, France and the UK have decided that we will abide by the agreement, and we will do everything we can to see that Iran also abides by its responsibilities in the future.”
Neither the AP report nor Trump’s decision to violate the Iran deal are wholly surprising: previously, European leaders had said they were willing to work with Trump to address any legitimate concerns he had with the deal, agreeing to impose sanctions on Iran if it violated any of the parameters, but Trump wasn’t satisfied. The U.S. president reportedly wanted an entirely new deal, something which the Europeans said would never happen.
The president maintained that the JCPOA, as it stands, was not sufficient to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon — despite confirmation from his own defense secretary that the nation was abiding by the JCPOA guidelines.
“I’ve read it now three times…and I will say that it is written almost with an assumption that Iran would try to cheat,” Secretary James Mattis told lawmakers back in April, according to The Hill. “So the verification, what is in there, is actually pretty robust as far as our intrusive ability [to check on whether Iran is complying].”
Trump’s decision to violate the Iran deal may have further consequences beyond straining U.S. relations with Europe. Ivo Daalder, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and former U.S. ambassador to NATO, argues that the move could also give away his intentions for North Korea, heading into his impending nuclear summit with leader Kim Jong-un.
“Trump officials say that it sends a clear signal that Washington isn’t interested in just any deal — it wants complete denuclearization. But Pyongyang likely sees the decision as proof the United States cannot be trusted — that any deal reached with one president can be discarded by the next,” Daalder wrote in a column for Esquire on Wednesday. “That will make reaching any agreement with North Korea that much more difficult.”