The European Union’s foreign policy minister, Federica Mogherini, told reporters after meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other U.S. officials that the Trump administration would abide by the terms of the Iran nuclear deal, as well as maintain sanctions on Russia.
She might have added “for the time being.”
“I was reassured by what I heard in the meetings on the intention to stick to the full implementation of the agreement and all its parts and this I think is a very important statement,” she said.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly denounced the nuclear accord as a “terrible deal” and threatened during the election campaign to pull out of the agreement.
While his national-security cabinet picks suggested in their hearings that they supported strict enforcement of the deal, the Trump administration has signaled it will take additional steps to confront Iran. His national security adviser, Mike Flynn, last week said he was putting Iran “on notice” after it conducted a missile test, and the administration imposed new sanctions.
The deal, under which Iran agreed with six world powers to curb its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, took effect last year.
Ms. Mogherini, who also met with Mr. Flynn and Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, said the accord isn’t a bilateral or multilateral agreement but “belongs to the international community as a whole.”
“For me it was extremely important to stress the need to stick to the full implementation of the nuclear deal as we see is happening now,” she said. “The deal is working.”
The State Department declined to provide a readout of the meeting between Mr. Tillerson and Ms. Mogherini.
Ms. Mogherini said administration officials also agreed on the need to keep Ukraine-related sanctions in place against Russia until a two-year-old cease-fire agreement for the conflict is fully implemented.
“We agreed on the need to have full implementation of the Minsk agreement and on the fact that sanctions are linked to the full implementation of that agreement,” she said, referring to the 2015 cease-fire and peace agreements between Ukraine, Russia and pro-Russia separatists is eastern Ukraine.
U.S. officials have previously said Ukraine sanctions against Russia would remain in place, although the White House has said it may re-evaluate separate sanctions imposed on Russia by President Barack Obama after U.S.intelligence findings that Moscow was responsible for election-related computer hacking during the 2016 political campaign.
The Trump administration is proceeding cautiously in both areas, while leaving their options open. I doubt that President Trump sees the Iran nuclear deal as an agreement that “belongs to the international community as a whole,” but it’s apparent they have yet to decide how to proceed.
Judging by the president’s rhetoric, he seems eager to confront Iran over some of their more obvious cheating on the deal. Or, he may simply try to maneuver the Iranians into scuttling the deal themselves. The latter option would be a piece of cake. Tehran has threatened to walk away from the deal for trivialities. One can imagine what they would say if Trump challenged some of their actions that are in clear violation of the terms of the agreement, but to which the Obama administration turned a blind eye.
Upholding sanctions on Russia is a more delicate matter: How to maintain pressure on Moscow to behave in Ukraine while trying to draw closer to Putin? In trying to block Putin’s expansionist policy in Ukraine, the administration might dangle relief on some sanctions — in concert with our European allies — in return for full implementation of the ceasefire accord signed last year.
But Putin doesn’t like to be boxed in like that, and it may come to an all-or-nothing proposition where the west lifts sanctions in return for adherence to the ceasefire accord and perhaps a Russian guarantee of Ukraine sovereignty.
What about Crimea? It should be obvious by now that Putin will never give it up no matter what kind of sanctions are imposed. Accepting the harsh reality of Crimea’s annexation would be a bitter pill, but a necessary one to get Russian cooperation on a host of issues, not the least of which is battling ISIS and other terror groups.
So while the administration promises to abide by accords already in place, it doesn’t mean that their cooperation is permanent. For the moment, it seems sensible to keep their options open and react to events.