PARIS — "Remember the Eighth of May. History may recall it as the day the United States abandoned its belief in allies." Edward Luce's opening sentence in a scathing column penned Wednesday for the Financial Times is probably as close as anybody can get to capturing the European spirit following Donald Trump's announcement that he is withdrawing the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA).
In a similar vein, Le Monde editorialist Sylvie Kauffmann characterizes Trump's move as a "fragmentation bomb" that not only dashes hopes of achieving peace and stability in the Middle East but "also torpedoes his European allies and, behind them, the international liberal order." For German journalists Clemens Wergin and Daniel-Dylan Böhmer with Die Welt, Trump's announcement is "a slap in the face for Europe."
The EU's chief diplomat, Federica Mogherini, who helped finalize the deal back in 2015, said Brussels was "determined to preserve it," and the leaders of Britain, Germany and France quickly released a joint statement Tuesday in which they "urge the U.S. to ensure that the structures of the JCPOA can remain intact and to avoid taking action which obstructs its full implementation by all other parties to the deal."
Milan daily Corriere della Sera — May 9, 2018
The fact that Trump already threatened any company that continues to do business with Iran with "the highest level of economic sanctions' seems to suggest that Mogherini, May, Merkel and Macron are deceiving themselves. But some commentators, among them Le Figaro"s Jean-Jacques Mével, believe that Trump could still agree to an "eleventh-hour" deal, provided the new terms suit him. "In a well-honed act, he starts by theatrically storming out," Mével writes.
Still, it's a risky strategy. "Trump's move could well boomerang," Thorsten Denkler points out in a column for German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung. "If the other contracting parties are unimpressed by Trump's threats, if the agreement simply remains in force without the U.S., and Iran doesn't, therefore, suffer too much from the U.S. sanctions, then Trump has just left the table with a lot of noise, but without achieving anything."
Judging from his instant reaction Tuesday evening, this is exactly the outcome Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is hoping to achieve. "This is a psychological war, we won't allow Trump to win," he said. But the moderate Rouhani will, in all likelihood, face increasing opposition from the hardliners in Tehran, who were opposed to the deal in the first place. Already, Iranian lawmakers set a paper U.S. flag on fire in Parliament this morning, shouting "Death to America!" And Iran's parliament speaker said that, "Trump only understands the language of force."
For all the positive reactions from Tel Aviv and Riyadh — the only powers to have welcomed Trump's announcement — the move may have the opposite effect of its supposed goal, as Michael J. Koplow argues in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Instead of pushing the danger away, in other words, it could bring the region and its immediate neighbors closer to a direct conflict, especially one between Iran and Israel. One of the stages of this confrontation, Koplow writes, could well be Syria, where Israeli strikes on a military base used by Iranian forces this morning killed nine fighters.
French daily La Croix— May 9, 2018
Former U.S. President Barack Obama, who signed what Trump says was "the worst deal ever," warned that violating the agreement was "a serious mistake." Without it, the United States could end up with "a losing choice between a nuclear-armed Iran or another war in the Middle East," he said in a statement. There's also the risk of launching a new nuclear arms race — with Saudi Arabia ready to join the "club," editorialist Arnaud de La Grange writes in Le Figaro. Not to mention, of course, how the Iran announcement will be interpreted in Pyongyang, where the North Korean regime is in its own game of nuclear chicken with the White House.
Either way, President Trump appears to have put us all at a dramatic crossroads, Wergin and Böhmer argue in their Die Welt piece. He could either go down in history as someone "who made a daring decision and in the end got a better deal that actually kept Iran permanently away from the bomb, or as someone who broke a tolerably working agreement and only accelerated the Iranian road to the bomb," they write. A third possibility, according to the journalists, is that Trump's "maximum-pressure tactic" doesn't pan out and he ends up ordering military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities.
In Europe, where May 8 marks the end of World War II, the hope now is that this date doesn't become the starting point of another tragic chapter of history.