US and Europeans came close to Iran compromise before Trump said ‘No’

The talks ended in failure because Trump refused to compromise on a key point.
Sunday 13/05/2018
President Donald Trump walks across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Thursday, May 10. (AP)
President Donald Trump walks across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Thursday, May 10. (AP)

WASHINGTON - In a series of confidential talks during the winter and spring, officials from the United States, France, Germany and the United Kingdom made considerable progress towards forging a joint position to save the Iran nuclear agreement. However, the talks ended in failure because US President Donald Trump refused to compromise on a key point, officials said.

America’s European allies presented the Trump administration with a plan to leave the Iran deal in place and strengthen it with documents pressuring Iran to end its missile programme and scale back its efforts to destabilise countries in the Middle East. The three European powers, known in diplomatic parlance as the “E3,” argued that new agreements with Iran were the best way to keep Tehran under control.

US officials admit that negotiations progressed considerably over the spring, encouraging European leaders, such as French President Emmanuel Macron, to take their case directly to Trump. Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Trump during separate visits to Washington last month that Iran’s programme for intercontinental ballistic missiles could be tamed without destroying the Iran deal.

Trump, though, would not budge on an issue that lies at the core of the Iran agreement itself: so-called sunset provisions that give Iran the right to phase in certain nuclear activities after a specified period of time, with the first deadline seven years away. Trump said that means the deal gives the Iranians a green light to build a nuclear bomb — an argument rejected by the E3.

“So we made a ton of progress on ICBMs, on access, on missiles writ large, on regional issues and then we got stuck on sunsets,” one US official said in a background briefing. “We didn’t quite make it.”

The US side insists the work of the last few months was useful because some points under agreement between the United States and the E3 could form a baseline to get the Iranians to agree to new negotiations. Since the United States is pressing for new talks, there is a feeling on the European side that the Trump administration strung the E3 along for months while never intending to compromise.

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the Trump administration was turning its back on multilateral relations and friendly cooperation “with a ferocity that can only surprise us.”