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.


Pyongyang hits Pence ‘stupid’ remarks, threatens to quit summit

Updated 1 min 44 sec ago
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Pyongyang hits Pence ‘stupid’ remarks, threatens to quit summit

TOKYO: North Korea has renewed its threat to pull out of a summit next month with President Donald Trump, saying it is just as ready to meet in a nuclear confrontation as at the negotiating table.
Pyongyang’s latest salvo follows recent comments by US Vice President Mike Pence suggesting the North may end up like Libya if it doesn’t move forward with denuclearization.
Choe Son Hui, the vice minister of foreign affairs, was quoted Thursday by the North’s state-run news agency slamming as “ignorant” and “stupid” comments Pence made in an interview with Fox News that compared North Korea to Libya, saying they showed he does not understand North Korea’s situation.
She also questioned whether the summit, scheduled for June 12 in Singapore, would be worthwhile if the remarks reflect Washington’s position.
“We will neither beg the US for dialogue nor take the trouble to persuade them if they do not want to sit together with us,” KCNA quoted her as saying. “Whether the US will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown is entirely dependent upon the decision and behavior of the United States.”
The summit plan has hit a number of speed bumps recently as both sides have begun taking tougher positions and trading barbs. Trump met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday at the White House for consultations and suggested the summit could be delayed. But the US says it is still working on making it happen.
Choe, a veteran diplomat and former head of the North America desk at the Foreign Ministry, was responding to comments Pence made to Fox News this week that it would be a “mistake” for the North Koreans to think they can “play” Trump. Pence said both the Clinton and Bush administrations had been “played” by the North Korean government.
“We offered concessions to the North Korean regime in exchange for promises to end their nuclear weapons program, only to see them break those promises and abandon them,” he said, adding that if Pyongyang does not go along with talks to give up its nuclear weapons, Washington could return to the “Libya model.”
That suggestion, which was made earlier this month by National Security Adviser John Bolton and also sparked an outraged response from the North, is especially inflammatory to Pyongyang.
The Libya model refers to negotiations in 2004 that led to the shipping of nuclear components to the US from Libya under Muammar Qaddafi. But in Pyongyang’s mind the most important part of the story is what came after that. Qaddafi was deposed after a 42-year reign and killed in 2011 — the year Kim assumed power in North Korea — while his country spiraled into chaos.
“In view of the remarks of the US high-ranking politicians who have not yet woken up to this stark reality and compare the DPRK to Libya that met a tragic fate, I come to think that they know too little about us,” she said, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name.
She added: “To borrow their words, we can also make the US taste an appalling tragedy it has neither experienced nor even imagined up to now.”
How seriously the North would really consider calling off the summit isn’t entirely clear, however.
Meeting with Trump as an equal on the world stage would be an important moment for Kim and Choe couched her statement carefully, noting that she would only recommend the North Korean leader withdraw from the meeting if Washington “clings to unlawful and outrageous acts.”
North Korea was also expected to go through with a major gesture of goodwill ahead of the summit by dismantling its nuclear test site. The North, which has vowed to stop all underground nuclear testing and intercontinental ballistic missile launches, has invited foreign media to the remote site to observe a ceremony to mark the closing.
The ceremony was expected to be held Thursday or Friday, depending on the weather.