By Arun Kumar
The Macron-Merkel-May trio hopes to bear upon Trump to keep pact
“Besides the Europeans, the looming May 12 deadline also has India worried, as since the end of sanctions, it has greatly strengthened its bilateral relations and economic partnership with Iran. During Rouhani’s visit, the two countries signed nine agreements, including a crucial one on connectivity via the strategic Chabahar Port. India has also committed itself to completing the Chabahar- Zahedan rail link to provide an alternative route to Afghanistan, completely bypassing Pakistan”, say the author.
French President Emmanuel Macron has just ended a glitzy visit with President Donald Trump. German Chancellor Angela Merkel came calling today and British Prime Minister Theresa May has been burning the phone across the Atlantic. Their mission: to persuade the mercurial occupant of the White House not to tear up the Obama era 2015 landmark Iran nuclear deal as he threatened on the campaign trail.
The wily Donald is not telling anyone what he would do on May 12 when he must either sign a fresh waiver on Western sanctions against Iran or walk away from what Trump has decried as an “insane” and “ridiculous” deal signed by P5+1 — the US, Russia, China, UK, France and Germany — world powers with Tehran to end its nuclear weapons program.
But swept off his feet by what the American media called “Le Bromance” unleashed by Trump at the first State dinner of his presidency, Macron ended up calling for a new “big deal” with the old one limiting Iran’s uranium enrichment for 15 years serving as one of its four pillars.
Or did the suave Frenchman charm the Manhattan mogul into buying these side deals he Merkel and May have been working on to convince Trump to stay on in the Iran deal? European leaders are also said to be crafting a “Plan B” to continue without the US. But Iran is unlikely on come on board without the US.
The three new pillars that Macron suggested in Washington would rework the sunset clause in the accord to ensure there is no nuclear activity by Iran in the long run, as feared by the critics who have accused Europeans, particularly Germany, of putting business before security.
The Macron proposal would also seek to limit Tehran’s ballistic missile program and curb its “regional influence” by ceasing support for militant groups across the Middle East, particularly Yemen and Syria.
Even as he declined to show his hand, Trump suggested: “I think we will have a great shot at doing a much bigger maybe deal, maybe not deal” built on solid foundations. In an escalating war of words, he also cautioned Iran against restarting its nuclear program, warning it may “have bigger problems than they have ever had before.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who during his February visit to India — the first by an Iranian head of state in 10 years — had dismissed Trump as a “haggler”, was quick to heap fresh insults on “a tradesman” with no understanding of diplomacy. Western powers, he asserted, had no right to make changes in the deal now.
Earlier in February, Iranian deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi had assured that Iran’s commitment to not seek nuclear weapons is permanent and that there was no sunset clause in the deal.
Besides the Europeans, the looming May 12 deadline also has India worried, as since the end of sanctions, it has greatly strengthened its bilateral relations and economic partnership with Iran. During Rouhani’s visit, the two countries signed nine agreements, including a crucial one on connectivity via the strategic Chabahar Port. India has also committed itself to completing the Chabahar- Zahedan rail link to provide an alternative route to Afghanistan, completely bypassing Pakistan.
Chabahar Port, Rouhani declared, can serve as a bridge connecting India to Afghanistan, Central Asia and Eastern Europe.
India, which backs “full and effective implementation” of the Iran nuclear deal, could use Afghanistan as a bargaining chip at the next India-US two plus two dialogue between Trump’s incoming Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis and their Indian counterparts, Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman. The dialogue earlier set for April 18-19 in New Delhi was postponed with the unceremonious dismissal of Trump’s previous chief diplomat Rex Tillerson.
Pompeo, currently CIA Director, who is set to join Trump’s equally hawkish new National Security Adviser John Bolton, assured the Congress during his confirmation hearings that he would work to fix the “terrible flaws” in the Iran nuclear deal even if Trump walks away from it.
Unlike Tillerson, who favored a somewhat softer approach towards Pakistan, Pompeo, Bolton and Mattis are all for ramping up US pressure on Pakistan to roll up its terrorism infrastructure to allow India to engage in institution building in Afghanistan.
Trump’s declaration of a virtual trade war against friends and foes alike has sent diplomats across the world scrambling for new options. India and China, too, are coming closer with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi declaring that the upcoming informal summit between Indian PM Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping would be a “new starting point in relationship.” The two have, for long, put their vexed boundary dispute on the back burner to let their trade relations bloom. China has emerged as India’s largest trading partner with an 18 per cent growth, taking bilateral trade to $84 billion.
The fate of the Iran deal would certainly cast a shadow on the upcoming nuclear summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. If Trump tears up the Iran accord, can Kim trust him to keep his word on a peace pact with Pyongyang?
Would the author of “The Art of the Deal”, who looks at every issue as a transaction, risk a legacy building landmark accord with Kim after bringing him to the negotiating table with threats of “fire and fury”?
Not likely, as after a secret preparatory visit by Pompeo, a la Henry Kissinger, the legendary architect of Richard Nixon’s opening to China, he now sees Kim whom he once dismissed as the “Little Rocket Man” as “very open and very honorable.”
At their joint presser, Macron declared that “together US and France would defeat terrorism, curtail weapons of mass destruction in North Korea and Iran and act together on behalf of the planet.” The last bit was seen as a hint that Trump may be open to revisiting the Paris Climate accord too.
Earlier in January, Trump declared that he would reconsider joining the “terrible” Trans Pacific Partnership if the US got a “substantially better deal.”
At his presser with Macron, Trump declared in a conspiratorial tone: “Nobody knows what I am going to do on the 12th (of May), although Mr President, you have a pretty good idea.” Macron responded with just a wink.
It would, indeed, be hazardous to guess what Trump would or would not do. But given that he is open to revisiting every “terrible” deal in search for a “better” one, it may be safe to presume that the Iran accord will live another day.
(The author is an expert on international affairs)