Hoping to further pressure Iran into changing its entire foreign policy and curtailing its ballistic missile program, Trump administration officials on Wednesday will meet with some of their counterparts in Warsaw, Poland.
While officials from between 60 countries are set to show up, there are notable absences: foreign ministers from France and Germany will not be there to meet with Vice President Mike Pence, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Donald Trump’s senior adviser (and son-in-law) Jared Kushner, nor will European Union policy chief, Federica Mogherini.
Indeed, roughly half of the countries attending are not sending top-level envoys for the trip.
These absences speak to the divide between major European powers and the United States over dealing with Iran. Mogherini played a key role in negotiating the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, along with France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, and the United States.
The deal saw Iran curbing its nuclear enrichment activities in exchange for sanctions relief, and the United States, under President Trump, is alone in insisting that it must also cover a wide range of Iran’s other activities, including its ballistic missile program and its footprint in the region, specifically, in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen.
Trump violated the agreement in May and has reimposed sanctions against Iran, while the European partners in the deal have been trying to come up with ways to keep it alive without risking secondary U.S. sanctions on European companies.
It should be noted that while the United Kingdom has sent Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to Warsaw, the focus of his meeting with Pompeo will be Yemen, and a way to negotiate a peace in that country’s horrific civil war.
A statement announcing the meeting mentions Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which, in siding with the government of Yemen against the Houthi rebels, are coordinating in deadly airstrikes over the country. The statement does not even mention Iran, which is not invited to Warsaw for the event.
Still, U.S. Special Representative to Iran Brian Hook spoke to NPR Wednesday morning to make the case for the legitimacy and effectiveness of the meeting.
“We’re going to be discussing a range of issues, but in the case of Iran, we agree to disagree with the Europeans on the Iran nuclear deal. But I do think we share the same threat assessment when it comes to Iran’s testing and Iran’s missile proliferation,” said Hook, focusing on the fact that European Union member states plan to send someone to the meeting, but not directly addressing who is being sent and what they plan to discuss.
He also touted the success of the latest round of sanctions on Iran, even as he expressed support for the Iranian people.
“Well, we’ve taken off over a million barrels of oil from Iran’s export list, and that has denied them billions and billions of dollars in revenue, and that’s a good thing,” he said. The Trump administration’s aim is to take Iran’s oil exports to zero.
But just how effective those sanctions will be in the months and years to come remains in question, as Iran’s dependency on its oil exports is significant, though diminishing.
At an Atlantic Council event marking the 40th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution on Tuesday, experts on the country’s economy stressed that while the sanctions have been tough, Iran’s economy is increasingly diverse. Iran’s banking system, although facing increasing challenges, is not about to collapse, and its economy, after decades of sanctions, is one built around resistance.
Inflation has been brutal in some sectors in Iran, with prices for basic food staples quadrupling, and the country’s budget, which still heavily relies on the export of oil and related products, will also take a hit. But, experts told ThinkProgress, the goals — and achievables — are very much up in the air.
Global energy expert Sara Vakshouri, founder and president of SVB Energy International, said that perhaps keeping Iran “just hanging there, off a cliff” is what’s benefiting various energy players, including the United States and Saudi Arabia. In an over-supplied energy market, kicking a key player such as Iran out — or limiting its role — is already making a difference, even bringing Russia into a possible cooperation with OPEC.
“The policy could be what it is today — we don’t have to have Iran to collapse or not collapse,” she said.
But the consequences of such a policy are “indefinite,” said Kevan Harris, assistant professor of sociology at the University of California in Los Angels. Harris said that while the previous set of U.S. sanctions were intended to push Iran onto a diplomatic track, the current ones do not have “realistic diplomatic end.”
“It’s a deterrent/containment policy that seems to be indefinite, under the current administration,” said Harris. It also can’t be predicted that economic pain will actually push the Iranian government to the point of submitting to the will of the Trump administration.
“I don’t think we here in Washington understand the policy process in Iran very well…Iran doesn’t have a single totalitarian party that controls all the politicians,” said Harris. He added that it’s “anybody’s guess” how Iran’s economic pressures, the rising protests, and the way various political factions inside the country might want to use these issues, might yield any sort of future deal with the United States.