EU-US ties to break over Iran; Democrats’ electoral win may not change it

President Donald J. Trump holds a press conference regarding the midterm election results Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018, in the East Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

After last Tuesday’s midterm elections in the United States, the Republicans of President Donald Trump lost the House of Representatives to the Democratic Party. The vote was turned out into a referendum for the Trump administration, and the GOP lost the full control of the two chamber Congress. From now on, the White House will not be able to count on the full backing of the legislative and practically all Presidential decisions will be under Democratic scrutiny.

The Republicans retain the control of the Senate, but the Democratic seizure of the House of Representatives may block the agenda of the President in the two legislative chamber Congress. An important check under the new political reality in America may be the White House decision to ruthlessly punish Iran. The US has re-introduced the embargo against the Islamic Republic, after Trump’s decision to withdraw America from the international Nuclear Agreement with Iran.

The Middle East

In this way, the US is drastically altering its Middle East strategy, fully supporting the interests of the other camp, comprising the enemies of Iran, renowned amongst them Saudi Arabia and Israel. Still, it’s not certain at all that the Democrats will vie for the US to lift again the Iranian sanctions. Attitudes in Washington towards Tehran run horizontally.

Those politicians who oppose the administration’s enmity against Iran are also positively disposed towards Europe. It’s highly uncertain though if they are in majority. Let’s dig into it.

Breaking the nuclear deal

At the beginning of this week, on Monday 5 November, the United States introduced again the sanctions against Iran. This was after the Trump Administration withdrew from the nuclear deal which the Islamic Republic had concluded in 2015 with five plus one (5+1) world powers including the US.

In July of that year France, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, the United States plus Germany ended a decades old embargo on Iran, with Tehran accepting to allow international checks over its nuclear facilities. The idea was to stop Iran from coming close to building nuclear armaments.

Iran punished

However, last May, the American President Donald Trump unilaterally decided to abandon the 5+1 deal and again introduce the sanctions which the US had abolished under Democratic President Barack Obama. As from last Monday, then, Washington imposed sanctions on Iran’s oil, banking and transportation sectors, including, of course, mercantile marine.

To be noted, the US has temporarily exempted eight countries from the sanctions on oil. For the next 180 days most, only China, India, Japan, Italy, Greece, Taiwan, Turkey and South Korea will be able to continue importing Iranian oil. This is because those countries have Iran as their major supplier of crude.

Europe sides with Russia and China

However, the US is alone in the reintroduction of sanctions. Russia and China had practically never imposed strict embargo on Iran, and, consequently, have now bluntly denied imposing such measures. On the same side, though, Britain, France and Germany have loudly and clearly opposed the American measures.

Those European countries maintain strong business ties and activities in the Islamic Republic. Understandably, in the opposite camp, Israel and the Sunni Muslim Kingdoms in the Arab Gulf, with Saudi Arabia first among them, have enthusiastically applauded the American aggressive steps against Iran, their arch enemy in the region.

Splitting the world

For many particular reasons, Turkey has not followed the other Sunni Middle East countries in opposing Iran. Actually, Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish Foreign Minister, opposed the re-introduction of sanctions against Iran. According to Anadolu news agency, he said “the imposition of measures against the oil and shipping industry of this country is unfair and will dangerously isolate Iran and punish its people”.

In detail, the US has not only restored the embargo which was in force before the 5+1 agreement, but has introduced more restrictions. Apart from the oil exports, the US now targets 50 Iranian banks and 250 physical and legal persons and entities in the shipping and insurance sectors including Iran Air, the country’s national carrier.

Washington has gone as far as to personally punish on Abdolnassr Hemmati, the Governor of the Central Bank of the country by imposing restrictions. On top of all that, John Bolton, the top security adviser to the US President, said Washington will take more measures to punish Iran, without elaborating further though.

Europe alarmed

Coming back to Europe, the Old Continent’s powers, seconded by the European Union haven’t taken this unilateral US action lightly. Pierre Moscovici, the European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs plainly said the Union doesn’t approve the US action punishing Iran. Brussels, Paris, London and Berlin said this White House decision is regrettable.

They added that they will seek ways to safeguard the European interests and companies. The European Commission is actually putting together a mechanism to allow perfectly legal business with Iran to continue as before. The mechanism is already in place, but it will become operational at the beginning of next year.

A global issue

The issue is taking global dimensions. Russia and China have declared that the US sanctions do not concern them. Western Europe, however, is evidently taking the American action as a direct hit against it, regrettably coming from her closest ally. The Iranian issue comes on top of what the US President has said and done against the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Trump has accused the EU of having ruthlessly exploited America by exporting many more products than it imports and has called NATO an obsolete organization. He has asked Germany, for example, to pay the US hundreds of billions of dollars, because this country doesn’t spent enough on American armaments.

Reshaping the strategic Atlas

The White House has also imposed extra tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum products and also threatens to punish the sales of European cars in the US with super levies. Trump’s new trade agreement with Mexico mainly punishes German cars assembled in the southern neighbor of America.

Already then, the EU-US relations have gone sour. The Europeans are convinced they cannot count on America as their closet security partner. France and Germany have practically denounced Europe’s security dependence on America.

Reshaping the atlas

As a result, the Iranian knot is taking a central global significance that can change the geopolitical atlas of the earth as we know it. The break of the Atlantic ties will reshape the entire global division of power. If Europe goes ahead with its mechanism to overcome the US sanctions, the US Department of Justice may take legal action against the Europeans.

It won’t be the first time the American legal system is criminally persecuting foreigners all over the world for crimes only the US law considers as such. In this eventuality, however, the European countries will stop cooperating with the American authorities. Already, some Germans cannot travel to the US, being wanted there for the WV/AUDI diesel engines emissions affair.

In such an unforgiving political climate between the EU and US, the trans-Atlantic bonds will, more or less, freeze.

 

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