WASHINGTON ― White House national security adviser John Bolton warned on Sunday that President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the international agreement over Iran’s nuclear program could result in sanctions on companies based in European nations that are critical U.S. allies.
“It’s possible,” Bolton said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program when host Jake Tapper asked him about that prospect. “It depends on the conduct of other governments.”
The 28-member European Union remains committed to the accord, and top E.U. members France, Britain and Germany helped negotiate the deal and signed it. Their leaders tried to persuade Trump not to abandon it.
The E.U. was Iran’s largest trade partner until 2012, when the Obama administration cobbled together a massive international sanctions regime on the Islamic Republic ― even bringing along China and Russia ― to force it to make concessions on the nuclear issue.
Since the deal went into effect in 2016, lifting some sanctions in exchange for Iran opening up its nuclear facilities for inspections and accepting limits on its enrichment of uranium, Europe-Iran trade has mushroomed and companies based in the E.U. have signed deals worth billions of dollars with Tehran.
“I think the Europeans will see that it’s in their interest, ultimately, to come along with us.”
By reimposing American sanctions, Trump placed those companies at risk because the U.S. might crack down on them in the America-centric global financial system and technology trade. The administration has given companies in different sectors different windows of between three and six months to cut off business with Iran. Bolton’s comments confirmed that after that, Trump is willing to subject them to penalties.
“The consequences of American sanctions go way beyond goods shipped by American companies because of our technology licenses to many other countries and businesses around the world. As those sanctions kick in, it will have an even broader effect as well,” he said. “I think the Europeans will see that it’s in their interest, ultimately, to come along with us.”
European officials are brainstorming ways to protect their countries’ business interests in Iran and also preserve the deal’s procedures to prevent Iranian nuclear weapons development by keeping economic benefits to the country flowing. But the Trump administration appears to agree with outside critics of the deal who say the Europeans will eventually realize the U.S. market is more important to them ― and give up on the landmark accord.
Trump has repeatedly said that he wants a “better” deal with Iran on the nuclear issue.
But allies’ increasing skepticism of any commitments by Trump and the way the weakening of the deal helps hard-liners in the Iranian government make it hard to imagine successful negotiations.
“Diplomacy isn’t Trump’s strong suit,” Stimson Center arms control expert Michael Krepon wrote recently. “Trashing Barack Obama’s accomplishments is.”
Bolton on Sunday reiterated the administration line that the U.S. wants to work with its partners in new ways to counter a whole range of Iranian activity ― from its nuclear development to its support for forces around the Middle East that often work against American interests.
He also sought to dampen concerns that he might push Trump to use U.S. force for regime change in Iran, saying that was his view while he was out of government.