EghtesadOnline: European diplomats drew a line in the sand last month, telling American officials their bullying tactics would not help marshal support for US President Donald Trump’s Iran policy.
The firm response came in a conference call in early January when a senior US State Department official threatened European carmakers would be hit with tariffs unless the European Union backed Trump’s hard line, Financial Tribune reported.
Diplomats from Germany, France and the UK said such tactics were completely unacceptable and would not help the president achieve his goals, according to US and European officials familiar with the exchange cited by Bloomberg.
The US State Department team was struck by the firmness of the European line and passed their message on to the White House and officials from both sides noted the US administration dialed back the pressure on its European allies in the days that followed.
The episode suggests a growing resolve among European officials to stand their ground, as Trump looks to use trade policy to advance a widening range of US geopolitical goals, and it also shows that their ability to pull together may survive the UK exit from the EU.
Trump has been turning up the heat on Europe over a range of issues that also include relations with China and Russia. The president returned to the offensive later in the month when he targeted the EU for some of his harshest criticism at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
“They have trade barriers where you can’t trade; they have tariffs all over the place, they make it impossible,” Trump said a week later at the World Economic Forum. “They are frankly more difficult to do business with than China.”
The video conference around Jan. 8, first reported by the Washington Post, was led on the US side by David Hale, the undersecretary for political affairs at the state department, while the Europeans on the call were ambassadors, one of the officials said.
By then, European policymakers had already been planning for weeks to start formal action against Iran over its reduction of commitment to the 2015 nuclear deal.
The three European powers’ plans for a measured increase in pressure against Tehran were upended when the US assassinated a top Iranian general in a drone attack at the start of January. That brought the two sides to the brink of war, as Iran threatened retaliation against US targets.
The Europeans eventually triggered the dispute resolution of the Iran nuclear accord on Jan. 14, around a week after their clash with Hale. EU officials have insisted their decision was designed to force Iran to return to compliance with the accord, whereas Trump has called for the deal to be scrapped.
At the time of the drone strike, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said EU allies were not “as helpful as I wish that they could be” in supporting the strike.
EU officials, on the contrary, have blasted the American strategy of ratcheting up “maximum pressure” against Iran with sanctions that have hammered the Iranian economy, as aimlessly aggressive and lacking a strategic objective.