With Iran vs. Trump

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson vs Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson vs Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif

"We did not throw shoes at each other," US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson assured after his first meeting with Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. However, there was a tough conversation at the ministerial meeting of seven states that reached the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which was held at the UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday evening. After Zarif spoke sharply as usual about the US campaign against the deal and his country, Tillerson turned to him directly. According to Tillerson, he still clearly remembers Iran hostage crisis in the US embassy in Tehran. A critical analysis of the "painful" history of relations between the two countries is a task that, perhaps, should be delegated to future generations. When a group of Iranian students stormed the U.S. embassy in 1979, Tillerson was 27 years old and Trump was 33 years old. Zarif and Barack Obama, by contrast, only reached the age of majority at that time.

At the meeting, Tillerson did not contradict the Europeans, the Chinese, the Russians or the Iranians in the fact that Tehran complies with all terms of the agreement. But he did not want to accept the position of partners, according to which, the treaty only deals with the nuclear issue. As Tillerson noted later, there was clear expectations of the parties that a conclusion of the nuclear agreement would allow the parties to seek a more stable, peaceful region. However, it was out of the question, the Secretary of State said in the context of Iran's missile tests and interference in other countries - from Yemen to Lebanon. That is why, in his opinion, the agreement failed. In addition, Tillerson clearly made clear to his partners that the world should simply accept that the US has elected a new government.

Europeans are beside themselves. Federica Mogherini, who was authorized by the EU to moderate the meeting, was waving a book containing all the details of the deal. She said that they negotiated with Iran on this issue for 12 years, generously attributing to this period also the years of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's rule - then the mediators held meetings often, but did not move forward with the process. Only after the election of Hassan Rouhani as President, Obama's advances found the fertile ground in Iran. Mogherini bravely reports that all the states have so far confirmed the implementation of the agreement by all the parties. But the Italian is visibly agitated. When one of the reporters asked her if the US expressed its commitment to the implementation of the deal, she just made a helpless gesture with hands, before responding - she cannot speak for President Trump.

A few hours earlier, Trump told reporters that he had decided on his further actions, but does not want to talk about it yet. Even when asked about it by UK Prime Minister Teresa May, he told her nothing. Mogherini points out that the Iran deal is not a bilateral agreement, which can be broken by one particular country. "This is a UN Security Council Resolution with an annex," she said. Europeans claim that they are going to adhere to the agreement, even if the US rejects it. But German Foreign Minister Zigmar Gabriel admits that it will be "very difficult" to do so. The pressure of the US has already prevented European enterprises and banks from conducting deals with Iran.

Even if Trump tells Congress in the near future that the agreement no longer serves interests of the US, formally it will not be considered a break of the treaty. Such a possibility is not envisaged in the deal in principle. Theoretically, deputies and senators may, despite Trump's assessment, refuse to return to anti-Iranian sanctions, abolished by Barack Obama. But no one in Europe is inclined to belittle the lobbying opportunities of Jews and other opponents of Iran in Washington. In New York, Gabriel spoke about a "tragic meeting". At the same time, he looks far beyond the Middle East region. How does the world intend to cope with an even heavier North Korean crisis if the United States undermines the "only functioning disarmament treaty" simply because the government has been replaced?

Hassan Rouhani uses this argument in New York with even greater relish. The Iranian president clearly enjoys the opportunity at his press conference in the camp of opponents to try on the roles of a diplomacy guru, a friend of Europe committed to the deal and a Trump's critic. Those who want to terminate the agreement, are making a fool of themselves, losing all confidence in the world and will never be able to find partners for agreements, Rouhani preaches. The Joint Comprehensive Action Plan, which entered into force last year, is neither a bilateral agreement nor similar to the Paris climate agreement, which Trump wants to leave. Does he, Rouhani, believe that Trump knows what the treaty says, a New York Times columnist asks. Rouhani grins and answers: "People, you know him better than I do." Then he said that the Iranian people are waiting for an apology from Trump for his insulting speech at the UN General Assembly.

French President Emmanuel Macron was making efforts to build a bridge for Trump at the beginning of the week. After meeting Trump ,Macron said that he "did not understand" what, in Washington's understanding, should be a substitute for a nuclear agreement. It must be preserved, but they may create further "cores" for solving other problems with Iran. Macron also called for the immediate discussion on what will happen after the agreement expires in 2025.

It's not just Rouhani who makes it clear that it would practically be a revision of the agreement, which cannot be discussed. Most of the time was taken was spent on dates for the enrichment of uranium by Iran within the narrowest possible limits. "Of course the dates we insisted be the shortest possible, and the other side insisted be as long as possible," he explained. But in the end, a compromise was reached, and it can not be discussed. 

European diplomats also consider Macron's initiative unrealistic. Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian assured the partners that Macron meant only "informal talks." Gabriel and Mogherini emphasize that Iran is prohibited 'for life' from possessing nuclear weapons. And therefore, the deal does not expire in principle, as critics present it. At the same time, Benjamin Netanyahu insists that the world, having concluded the Iran deal, virtually guaranteed it the opportunity to reduce within 15 years so breakout time (the amount of time it would theoretically take Iran to produce enough fissile material for an atomic bomb) up to several days. "Change it, or cancel it," the Israeli Prime Minister's alternative says.

Only two of 193 states opposed the deal "or even expressed their shame for it," said Rouhani, who describes Israel only as "an illegal regime." Iran is prepared for all scenarios if the US cancels the deal. It's too early to say whether an agreement has a future without the US. "This is a very important issue that we and Europeans are analyzing." He recalls that the research reactor in Tehran needs uranium that's up to 20% enriched - that is, a fissile material that can be quickly processed to build an atomic bomb. Rouhani, however, assures that Iran has never sought, is not now seeking and will never seek nuclear weapons.