- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2017

Top diplomats from Washington’s European allies agreed Monday that it would be America’s allies who would suffer most from a U.S. pullout from the landmark nuclear deal with Iran, but refused to weigh in on whether the Trump White House was seriously considering such a move.

President Trump has kept the international community on edge over the fate of the deal, which some administration backers say is an effort by Washington to renegotiate some of the more controversial elements of the nuclear pact. But supporters of the deal negotiated in 2015 under President Obama insisted that a U.S. pullout would put Tehran back on the road to acquiring a nuclear weapon unabated.

The European ambassadors, speaking at a forum organized by the Atlantic Forum, said a U.S. withdrawal would leave Iran in a stronger position to exert influence in the region and give the U.S. and its allies fewer levers to stop it.

“Dissolution of this agreement would be a major loss” for Washington and its allies, European Union Ambassador to the U.S. David O’Sullivan said Monday.

With the “backdrop of a successful” nuclear deal, however, future talks with Tehran over its support of terror groups such as Hezbollah and its proxy wars in Iraq, Yemen and Syria could prove more fruitful, Mr. O’Sullivan added.

Britain, Germany and France, along with Russia and China, joined the U.S. in signing the 2015 deal. Despite Mr. Trump’s scathing complaints about the deal, none of the other signatories appears ready to follow the lead of Washington in agreeing to scrap or overhaul the current deal.

But key members of Mr. Trump’s security team share his concerns. Prior to his confirmation, Defense Secretary James Mattis openly opposed the deal, an opposition that reportedly resulted in his dismissal as U.S. Central Command chief by the Obama White House.

On Monday National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster criticized the nuclear deal, saying the Obama administration’s entire Iran policy was centered around sealing a nuclear pact with Tehran by any means necessary, including the removal of painful international sanctions on Iran’s economy.

“What we succeeded in doing was empowering Iran,” he said during a speech at a defense symposium sponsored by the Institute for the Study of War. “How much do you trust the Iranian regime? I do not think you can trust them very much.”

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has argued in private against Mr. Trump blowing up the deal, but said last week the agreement was flawed because many of the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear programs will end within a decade.

But the EU’s Mr. O’Sullivan said Monday “there has been no evidence” that Tehran was not complying with its obligations on its nuclear program included in the deal.

“The agreement is working and that is the unanimous opinion on the European side,” he said.

“This is a domestic issue” for the U.S., added French Ambassador Gerard Araud, while warning that any fallout from a U.S. withdrawal would hit Europe the hardest. European firms have moved much more quickly than their American counterparts to explore deals with Iran with the sanctions now lifted.

Mr. Trump discussed the Iran deal with British Prime Minster Theresa May for nearly an hour at a meeting during the U.N. General Assembly last week, U.K. Ambassador Kim Darroch said Monday, detailing his unhappiness with the deal.

Some analysts say Mr. Trump’s threat to withdraw from the Iran deal is a ploy to either induce Tehran to end the deal or wring new concessions from Iran. On Monday Mr. McMaster characterized the sunset clause that ends the curb on nuclear enrichment in 2025 as “the fatal flaw” of the pact.

But the European diplomats said the ploy has little chance in the current diplomatic climate.

“Neither the Iranians or the Russians or the Chinese have said they want to try to reopen negotiations,” Mr. Araud said. “Reopening negotiations is a nonstarter.”


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