European Union moves to forbid members’ compliance with economic sanctions Trump reimposed on Iran

Gage Skidmore / Flickr Donald Trump...
Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Even as the French energy giant Total says it will pull out of a billion-dollar project in Iran without a waiver on U.S. economic sanctions, the European Union is moving to implement provisions of a law that prohibits EU companies and courts from complying with those sanctions.

As part of its withdrawal from the 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran, the Trump regime is reimposing the sanctions used to spur Tehran to negotiate the agreement in the first place. The impact is uncertain, but it is already being felt:

“Total will not continue the SP11 (South Pars 11) project and will have to unwind all related operations before 4 November 2018, unless Total is granted a specific project waiver by US authorities with the support of the French and European authorities,” the French oil and gas company said in a statement. […]

Total’s announcement comes after Denmark’s Maersk, which operates oil tankers globally, said it would fulfill commitments in Iran already on its books but would not enter into any new contracts.

Another Danish oil tanker operator Torm has said it would stop taking new orders in Iran.

The EU seeks to keep Iran in the 2015 agreement that dropped sanctions in exchange for  curtailment of Iran’s nuclear development program. Patrick Wintour and Daniel Boffey at The Guardian report that European Commission President  Jean-Claude Juncker says he will deploy a plan the EU last used to protect businesses working in Cuba before the United States lifted sanctions on that nation:

“We will begin the ‘blocking statute’ process, which aims to neutralise the extraterritorial effects of US sanctions in the EU. We must do it and we will do it tomorrow [Friday] morning at 10.30,” he said at the end of a summit in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia. […]

The “blocking statute” is a 1996 regulation that prohibits EU companies and courts from complying with foreign sanctions laws and stipulates that no foreign court judgments based on these laws have any effect in the EU. […]

The European council president, Donald Tusk, added at a meeting of EU leaders: “We agreed unanimously that the EU will stay in the agreement as long as Iran remains fully committed to it. Additionally the commission was given a green light to be ready to act whenever European interests are affected.”

The move on the part of the EU is based as much in economics as politics. In the wake of Total’s announcement, Iran’s oil minister Bijan Zangeneh announced that CNPC, the state-owned oil company of China, would step in to replace the French company if it does pull out. And on Thursday, the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union signed an interim trade deal with Iran that lowers tariffs on hundreds of goods. Russia also indicated it plans to negotiate a free trade zone with Tehran:

Beijing also signalled that it intends to continue trading with Iran.

“Under the prerequisite of not violating its international obligations, the Chinese side will continue to carry out normal and transparent practical cooperation with Iran,” said foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang.

He added that “the Chinese government always opposes the unilateral sanctions and the so-called long-arm jurisdiction that any country takes according to its domestic laws.”

If Iran had violated the nuclear agreement, Pr*sident Trump’s withdrawal would not only make sense, it would be required. But that’s not what happened. Inspectors for the International Atomic Energy Agency are charged with ensuring that all parties, including Iran, are fully complying with the provisions of the agreement. So far, they have repeatedly reported that Tehran is in full compliance.

Since his presidential campaign, however, Trump has been decrying the agreement as a terrible deal. If he had been the man in the Oval Office instead of President Barack Obama, he would have pursued a much tougher deal, Trump has boasted.

Rather than proving the power of his self-touted bargaining skills, he made America’s superhawks and Iran’s hardliners happy by yanking the U.S. out of the agreement altogether. This is frustrating and angering European leaders who had put so much energy into the negotiations, and it no doubt is giving North Korea’s Kim Jong-un another reason to wonder how much he can trust Trump to carry out any deal Pyongyang signs onto that limits its nuclear capabilities in exchange for trade, investment, and relief from sanctions that have worsened the North’s already weak economy.

While other American presidents have at times backed questionable, even awful, foreign policies, they typically have chosen a clear and focused direction. Every president since Truman has been said to have a foreign policy “doctrine” laying out how they believed the U.S. should interact with the world. Some of these have been notoriously aggressive, some not.

Trump, however, whose political ideology is a heady mix of greed and narcissism, cannot be said to have any doctrine. His contradictory foreign policy initiatives, characterized by bluster and insults and ignorance, are a recipe for chaos and for making the U.S. a second-rate poseur, not “great again.”

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