Did Donald Trump Threaten Europe With Tariffs To Put Pressure On The Crisis With Iran?

A week before France, Germany and Britain accused Iran of not complying with the nuclear pact and threatened Tehran with sanctions, the Trump administration would have launched a threat to those three European countries: if they refused to denounce the country Persian, the United States would impose 25% tariffs on European cars.

The information was revealed by The Washington Post, and fueled tensions between Tehran and the West.

That threat, detailed the newspaper, was launched a week before Germany, France and the United Kingdom – the three European states that together with the US, China and Russia signed the nuclear agreement with Iran in 2015 – activated the mechanism of dispute resolution before Iran's breaches, a first step that would allow them to impose sanctions on the Persian country if the dispute is not resolved.

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The Iranian government was quick to respond, and accused European countries on Thursday of having sacrificed "what's left" of the nuclear agreement to protect their economic interests and avoid possible blackmail by the US president.

Paris, London and Berlin "sold the remains of the agreement to avoid Trump's new tariffs," Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a message on Twitter.

"It won't work, folks. This only increases your appetite," Zarif said on Twitter, referring to Trump.

"If you want to sell your integrity, keep going. But DO NOT boast about your great moral or legal principles," he added.

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According to The Washington Post, which quoted European officials familiar with the talks, the Washington government threatened to impose these tariffs if European countries did not challenge Iran or activate the dispute resolution mechanism with Iran.

This Wednesday, the high representative of the European Union (EU) for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, announced that he had received the letter from the ministers of those three countries in which they communicated their decision to resort to the mechanism for what they consider the " Iranian breach "of its commitments.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (left) with the head of European Union diplomacy, Josep Borrell, at a meeting in India this Thursday./DPA

That mechanism establishes a period of 35 days to resolve the European complaint that Iran is not fulfilling its part of the agreement and opens the door to the re-imposition of sanctions, which would end up ending the pact negotiated by the government of former US President Barack Obama.

This Thursday, the German defense minister confirmed that Washington put pressure on London, Paris and Berlin. "This expression or threat, whatever you want to call it, exists," said Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer during a press conference in London, confirming information published by The Washington Post.

The pact signed in Vienna in July 2015 threatens to disintegrate since Trump left him unilaterally in 2018 and imposed economic sanctions on Tehran, which has since continued to harden.

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In response to this US withdrawal, Tehran has also reduced its commitments, specifically regarding the decline in its nuclear activities.

The US effort for pressuring Europe with tariffs – a policy considered "blackmail" by some European officials – represents a new level of aggressive tactics towards Washington's oldest allies, demonstrating the disruption in transatlantic relations, the Post said.

Trump retired in 2018 to the U.S. of the agreement, considering that it offers too many concessions to the Tehran authorities. Since then, it imposed a series of sanctions on Iran, which have had a strong impact on the economy of the Islamic Republic.

The European governments signatory to the agreement and the European Union have so far defended the validity of the pact despite the US abandonment and even sought, without much success, how their companies skip Washington's sanctions to continue doing business with Iran.

But Europe's attitude has changed especially since last January 5, Iran announced that it will no longer comply with any limits imposed by the nuclear agreement.

Tariffs, powerful weapon

It is not the first time that Trump uses the threat of import tariffs on European cars, primarily German-branded vehicles, to pressure Europe. But so far that pressure was not aimed at dictating the foreign policy of European countries.

"The threat with tariffs is a mafia tactic, this is not how relations between allies typically work," Jeremy Shapiro, director of research at the European Council on International Relations, told The Washington Post.

The tension between the US and Iran has risen after the assassination on January 3 in Baghdad of Iranian General Qasem Soleimaní in a US operation, which triggered an attack by Tehran to bases with US troops on Iraqi soil.

The European Union defends the pact

As diplomatic tension grows, the head of the European Union diplomacy, Josep Borrell, stressed Thursday the interest of the block in maintaining the nuclear agreement with Iran, during a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif, in New Delhi.

"Josep Borrell stressed the continued interest of the European Union in maintaining the agreement, which is now more important than ever in view of the dangerous escalation in the Middle East and the Gulf region," the European Union said in a statement.

Borrell and Zarif met outside the economic, geopolitical and security forum Raisina Dialogues, organized by the Indian government in the capital, and agreed to "keep in close contact and continue the interactions in the coming weeks."

The meeting took place on the same day that Iranian President Hassan Rohani said his country is enriching more uranium on a daily basis than before the signing of the 2015 nuclear agreement.

Source: AFP and EFE

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