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Why Trump and Europe are not that far apart on Iran

The European Union leaders’ summit last Friday focused on Brexit, but it capped a week of meetings in Brussels and Luxembourg to thrash out unified policies on, among other issues, North Korea and Iran.
While the EU leaders’ position on the Iran deal appeared to be different from that of US President Donald Trump, the differences are more on formalities than on the substance of the deal and its ramifications.
In light of Trump’s decision this month to decertify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal, leaving it to Congress to take the next steps, the EU shifted its focus for now to the US Congress to try to preserve the deal. In an attempt to influence congressional deliberations, the EU is dispatching Federica Mogherini, its de facto foreign minister, to Washington in the first week of November, to convey EU views to congressional leaders.
In addition, some of the statements coming from Europe last week, especially the lengthy statement issued by the EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg on October 16, appeared to be critical of Trump’s position on the nuclear deal. It goes into detail about the intrinsic virtues of the deal, and the need to uphold it in principle, as an international accord endorsed by the UN Security Council.
Despite appearances, though, EU policy in Iran is not much different from that of the US. The foreign ministers’ statement appeared to strongly support the deal and appealed to the US Congress to uphold it, because Europe accords the formalities of international law a great deal of attention, and it is keen to keep the deal intact, regardless of any shortcomings. However, in the same statement, the EU expressed “its concerns related to ballistic missiles” and stressed that it “stands ready to actively promote and support initiatives to ensure a more stable, peaceful and secure regional environment,” in a clear reference to Iran’s destabilizing behaviour in the region.

There are superficial differences over formalities, but the EU and US agree on the substance:  Tehran’s destabilizing regional meddling must be curbed.

Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

EU leaders are also quite clear eyed about Iran’s rogue behaviour. In particular, there is great concern in European capitals about the unintended consequences of the nuclear deal with Iran, including the expansion of its ballistic missile program, and the escalation in malign activities in the region of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC). In addition, European security services have been concerned for some time about the IRGC, Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies, as they expand their criminal networks in Europe and elsewhere.
The EU still maintains sanctions against members of the IRGC, a major target of Trump’s criticism. The EU foreign ministers discussed Iran’s ballistic missile program, which they want to see dismantled.
In private conversations with European political and security officials, there is no doubt that they are well aware of the need to tame IRGC activities in the region. They realize that stability of the region is being upended by the IRGC and its proxies in Yemen, Syria and elsewhere. Any long-term prospects for regional stability depend on effectively countering those activities. 
On the nuclear deal itself, European officials do not disagree with the US on the objective of the deal – to deny Iran any path to military nuclear capacity. They also agree on the need to verify Iran’s implementation and to give inspectors full access to all Iranian sites. They agree that the deal is not about mere compliance with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, but adds more robust mechanisms than those provided by that treaty to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons.
In general, with some differences in style, the EU position appears to mirror the Macron Plan:  Keep the nuclear deal but make it tougher, curb Tehran’s ballistic missile program and end its destabilizing role in the region, which is the essence of the new US strategy on Iran.
• Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is a columnist for Arab News. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @abuhamad1