A bombshell revelation from The Washington Post a day after France, Britain and Germany took unprecedented action against Iran by formally triggering the dispute resolution mechanism regulating conformity to the deal, seen as the harshest measure taken by the European signatories thus far. The European powers officially see Iran as in breach of the deal which means UN and EU punitive sanctions are now on the table.
But according to The Post, how things quickly escalated to this point is real story: "Days before Europeans warned Iran of nuclear deal violations, Trump secretly threatened to impose 25% tariff on European autos if they didn’t," says the report.
This came as a “shock” to all three countries, with one top European official calling it essentially “extortion” and a new level of hardball tactics from the Trump administration.
After the US leveraged the new tariffs threat according to the report, European capitals moved quick to trigger the mechanism, which involved the individual European states formally notifying the agreement's guarantor, the European Union, that Iran is in breach of the nuclear deal.
This followed the Jan.6 declaration of Tehran's leadership to no longer be beholden to uranium enrichment limits. And that's where things got interesting as Washington's pressure campaign dramatically turned up the heat on Europe.
"Within days, the three countries would formally accuse Iran of violating the deal, triggering a recourse provision that could reimpose United Nations sanctions on Iran and unravel the last remaining vestiges of the Obama-era agreement," the report continues.
However, the report notes France, the UK, and Germany were already in deep discussion on moving forward with triggering the mechanism. “We didn’t want to look weak, so we agreed to keep the existence of the threat a secret,” a European official cited by WaPo claims.
Trump's threats of auto tariffs to gain trade concessions with the Europeans is certainly nothing new, but using the same to dictate foreign policy is, notes WaPo's diplomatic correspondent John Hudson.
Interestingly, in Wednesday's joint statement the European signatories attempted to distance their drastic action away from Washington's so-called "maximum pressure" campaign. “Our three countries are not joining a campaign to implement maximum pressure against Iran,” they said.
The statement also underscored Europe hopes to use the mechanism "to bring Iran back into full compliance with its commitments under the JCPOA" and in the words of one official quoted in The Guardian to prevent nuclear advancement to the point that the Iranians “learn something that it is not possible for them to unlearn”.
Now that the mechanism has been enacted, the clock starts on 65 days of intensive negotiations before UN sanctions would be reimposed if no resolution is reached. Specifically a blanket arms embargo would be imposed among other measures, and certainly it would mark the deal's final demise, given the Europeans are Iran's last hope for being equal partners in the deal.
Also interesting is that in the hours before The Washington Post report was published, Iranian FM Zarif charged that the EU investigation into Iran's alleged non-compliance meant Europe is allowing itself to be bulled by the United States.
Indeed the new revelation of the secret threats attempting to dictate Europe's course appear to confirm precisely Zarif's words to reporters earlier on Wednesday: “They say ‘We are not responsible for what the United States did.’ OK, but you are independent” he began. And then added a stinging rebuke: “Europe, EU, is the largest global economy. So why do you allow the United States to bully you around?"