Can Macron’s White House visit save the Iran deal?

A US national flag, French flag(C) and Washington,DC flag fly near the Washington Monument in Washington, DC on April 20, 2018, the week before the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron. (AFP/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds)
Updated 22 April 2018
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Can Macron’s White House visit save the Iran deal?

  • Trump is due to decide by May 12 whether talks with Paris, Berlin and London on tougher anti-Iran measures have advanced far enough
  • Iran has said the deal is final and warned it is ready to relaunch its nuclear program

WASHINGTON: French President Emmanuel Macron seems, as much as any world leader, to have developed some kind of rapport with his American counterpart Donald Trump.
But will their apparent bond prove productive as European capitals struggle to save the Iran nuclear deal from Trump’s impulsive wrath?
The idea will be tested Monday when the young French leader begins a state visit in Washington, and European diplomats have a lot invested in what seems a tricky task.
There is not much time. Trump is due to decide by May 12 whether talks with Paris, Berlin and London on tougher anti-Iran measures have advanced far enough.
If he feels the “flaws” in the 2015 deal have not been adequately repaired, he may decide to withdraw his support, opening the way for renewed US sanctions that could torpedo the whole accord.
Europe would see this as a disaster, both in terms of the deal itself — a central plank in their non-proliferation strategy — and in terms of relations with Washington.
If anyone can talk down Trump, it might be Macron, who has better relations with the White House than his British and German counterparts Theresa May and Angela Merkel.
Paris was the first European ally to suggest tougher measures against Iran’s ballistic missile programs to “supplement” the nuclear deal — but will that suffice?
Trump also wants to reform the agreement itself to end the so-called “sunset clauses” that would allow Iran to progressively restart parts of its nuclear program after 2025.
But the West cannot unilaterally reopen the text.
Iran has said the deal is final and warned it is ready to relaunch its nuclear program — which the West alleges is designed to produce an atomic bomb — if it fails.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters in New York on Saturday that Iran is not seeking to acquire a nuclear bomb, but that its “probable” response to a US withdrawal would be to restart production of enriched uranium — a key bomb-making ingredient.
In addition, the agreement was the fruit of months of intense diplomacy between Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — under EU auspices.
Only Trump wants to rip it up.
“It’s a dialogue of the deaf,” complained one European envoy. A US diplomat acknowledged that getting Trump to buy in will be the “trickiest” part of the problem.
British, French and German representatives have been in deep talks with the US State Department’s head of policy Brian Hook on what a supplemental deal would look like.


But the representatives complain privately that, despite progress with their American counterparts, they have no idea whether they are close to an agreement that the mercurial president would accept.
To appease Trump, European capitals are working on a document that would amount to a political engagement to prevent Iran from returning to the nuclear path after the 2015 deal starts to expire.
The Europeans could even call such a statement a new “deal,” if it convinces the US leader to stay within the terms of the original and “true” agreement.
Therein lies the rub.
“He hates the deal,” another European diplomat acknowledged.
All Hook can say is that once he comes to terms with his European partners, it will be up to Trump, in consultations with his hard-line new National Security Adviser John Bolton, to decide.
“If we can reach an agreement, then that will be presented to the president by the secretary of state and the NSA, and then he will make a decision on whether he wants to remain in the deal or stop waiving sanctions,” Hook said.
“We always have to prepare for any eventuality, and so we are engaged in contingency planning because it would not be responsible not to engage in it.”
The appointment of Bolton, an avowed Iran hawk, fueled Europe’s pessimism, as did the nomination of CIA director Mike Pompeo to become the next US secretary of state.
But Pompeo, who has always talked tough on Iran, played down the significance of the May 12 deadline in his Senate confirmation hearing.
“I want to fix this deal. That’s the objective,” he told US lawmakers concerned that he might push for war.
“If there is no chance to fix it, I’ll recommend to the president we do our level best to work with our allies to achieve a better outcome and better deal. Even after May 12th, even after May 12th, there’s still much diplomatic work to be done.”
As the deadline looms, even some of the more hawkish Washington pundits — critics of the deal when it was signed — have begun to suggest that the return of US nuclear-related sanctions could be postponed until a new fixed date.
But if all the talk fails and Trump follows his clear inclination to tear up the “terrible deal,” there appears to be no Plan B, at least from Europe.
“Anyone who wants to blow up the Iran deal has first to tell us what he will do if Iran relaunches its uranium enrichment program,” France’s ambassador to the United States Gerard Araud tweeted in exasperation.
After Macron’s visit, there is only one from Merkel, whose chemistry with the US leader appears more toxic than productive, and then the ball in Trump’s hands.


Honduras and Guatemala act to stop migrants after Trump threats

Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the US, get off a truck during a new leg of their travel in Chiquimula, Guatemala on Tuesday, October 16, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 8 min 31 sec ago
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Honduras and Guatemala act to stop migrants after Trump threats

  • US Vice President Mike Pence drove home the point, saying he spoke to Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez and Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales warning them to help protect US borders and adding “no more aid if it’s not stopped!“

WASHINGTON/ESQUIPULAS, Guatemala: The organizer of a migrant caravan from Honduras was detained on Tuesday in Guatemala as the US government threatened to withdraw aid from both countries if the flow of migrants north to the United States was not stopped.
Up to 3,000 migrants, according to organizers’ estimates, crossed from Honduras into Guatemala on a trek northward, after a standoff on Monday with police in riot gear.
The Honduran Foreign Ministry called on its citizens not to join the group. The government “urges the Hondurans taking part in this irregular mobilization not to be used by a movement that is clearly political,” it said.
Over the border, Guatemalan police officers detained Bartolo Fuentes, a former Honduran lawmaker, from the middle of the large crowd that he and three other organizers had led from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, since Saturday.
The moves followed comments by US President Donald Trump that indicated his administration would halt aid if the Central American governments did not act, his latest effort to demonstrate his tough stance on immigration.
The Honduran security ministry said Fuentes had been detained because he “did not comply with Guatemalan immigration rules” and would be deported back to Honduras in the coming hours.
Security officials at the Honduran border with Guatemala in Agua Caliente blocked the road to prevent another much smaller group getting through, television images from the border showed.
“We can’t attend to people en masse. People are going through one by one,” said police spokesman Alex Madrid, in a radio interview.
Guatemala’s government said it did not have official figures for how many migrants from the caravan had already crossed the border.
Adult citizens of the countries of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua need only present national identity cards to cross each others’ borders. That rule does not apply when they reach Mexico.
“NO MORE MONEY“
Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday to express his annoyance at the caravan, which follows a similar event in May that ultimately led to hundreds of migrants either seeking asylum in the United States or remaining in Mexico.
“The United States has strongly informed the President of Honduras that if the large Caravan of people heading to the US is not stopped and brought back to Honduras, no more money or aid will be given to Honduras, effective immediately!” Trump wrote.
US Vice President Mike Pence drove home the point, saying he spoke to Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez and Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales warning them to help protect US borders and adding “no more aid if it’s not stopped!“
The strong words could encourage Honduras to move closer to China, amid intensified efforts by Beijing to win recognition from Central American countries aligned with Taiwan.
Honduras is one of a dwindling number of countries that still have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, an island nation off the Chinese coast that Beijing views as a renegade province.
Hernandez said last month that cuts in US support for Central America would only hinder the country’s ability to stem illegal immigration. He welcomed China’s growing diplomatic presence in the region as an “opportunity.”
Last week, Pence told Central American countries the United States was willing to help with economic development and investment if they did more to tackle mass migration, corruption and gang violence.

GROWING GROUP
The migrants in the group making its way north plan to seek refugee status in Mexico or pass through to the United States, saying they are fleeing poverty and violence.
“What Trump says doesn’t interest us,” organizer Fuentes said in an interview shortly before his arrest. “These people are fleeing. These people are not tourists.”
Widespread violence and poverty prompt thousands of Central Americans, mainly from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, to make the arduous journey north toward Mexico and the United States in search of a better life.
Trump ran for president in 2016 on promises to toughen US immigration policies and build a wall along the 2,000-mile(3,220-km) border with Mexico.
Illegal immigration is likely to be a top issue in Nov. 6 US congressional elections, when Democrats are seen as having a good chance of gaining control of the House of Representatives from Trump’s fellow Republicans.