Cartoon by Bill Day

Trump Goes From Threatening Iran to Threatening the World

The Atlantic: Donald Trump and his advisers have a consistent record of confronting and threatening Iran, most prominently by withdrawing from the nuclear deal. But on Tuesday, Trump expanded the threats against Iran to all those who do business with the country, declaring on Twitter they “will NOT be doing business with the United States.”

If taken literally, this would mean a new front in America’s economic battle with the Europeans, who have remained in the nuclear agreement—not to mention many other countries around the world determined to do business in Iran.

There’s already discord among the United States and the other parties to the accord—China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the European Union—over a range of issues beyond the Iran deal. These include trade and tariffs (China and the EU), defense spending (EU members of NATO), climate change (China, Russia, and the EU states), and sanctions (Russia). While the Trump administration might view these issues as distinct from the Iran nuclear issue, these countries and their publics will almost certainly see them as part of a larger confrontation with the United States over how Trump views the world. It’s also not clear the U.S. can get other countries—including its allies—to do its bidding. U.S. companies and the largest foreign firms will leave Iran under the threat of sanctions, but smaller firms and those with limited U.S. exposure could continue to seek opportunities in the Islamic Republic, ensuring the U.S. sanctions won’t have the intended impact, and certainly won’t be “the most biting sanctions ever imposed.”

“I think that the easiest way for them to circumvent the sanctions comes from the way in which we’re implementing them, which is by dividing our own partnership,” said Richard Nephew, the former deputy coordinator for sanctions policy at the U.S. State Department who was on the U.S. team that negotiated the Iran deal, in a conference call. “The fact that we are not working with Europe but rather confronting Europe means that we won’t have an EU-wide system of sanctions that we’re working with them. Instead it’s going to be all about who has benefit in the United States and who doesn’t, who has economic interests in the United States and who doesn’t. And that’s a bad way to have sanctions work, especially with our closest partners. And I think it’s going to just breed loopholes, even amongst some of our closest allies.”

Barack Obama’s administration succeeded in putting together coordinated international sanctions on Iran. Those restrictions sunk Iran into a recession and ultimately drove it to negotiations with the international community that resulted in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the Iran deal is formally known. Trump’s sanctions, strong though they are, are unlikely to have the same impact, primarily because they don’t have the same kind of international cooperation. But Trump administration officials have met with their counterparts from more than 20 countries to discuss the sanctions, working to build a coalition against Iran. “What I can tell you very specifically is that we have made it very clear that we’re going to aggressively enforce this executive order and the other authorities that we have pursuant to statute,” a senior administration official said in a background call to reporters Monday. “We will work with countries around the world to do so, but make no mistake about it, we are very intent on using these authorities.”

France, Germany, and the U.K. have criticized the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA. They say, and indeed Trump administration officials concede, that Iran is complying with the accord. The Trump administration says the Obama-era agreement does not go far enough to stop Iran’s regional meddling, its missile program, and the threat it poses to Israel. The deal’s other signatories—including China, Russia, and the EU—say the JCPOA was meant only to address the threat of Iran’s nuclear program, which it did >>>