The Head of ECFR said that we will see rising tensions, though much depends on how Iran responds to the US withdrawal. Will Tehran do the obvious and follow a line of "eye for an eye“ or will the Iranian government adhere to the terms for a long enough period to explore options with the other signatory states?
Josef Janning is the Head of ECFR Berlin Office and a Senior Policy Fellow. He joined the European Council on Foreign Relations in April 2014 as Senior Policy Fellow in the Berlin Office. In 2013/2014 he was a Mercator Fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations. Prior to that he served as Director of Studies at the European Policy Centre (EPC) in Brussels. Between 2001 and 2010 Josef has lead the international policy work as Senior Director of the Bertelsmann Foundation, a major private German foundation. Earlier positions in his career include Deputy Director of the Center for Applied Policy Research (CAP) at Munich University from 1995-2007.
ILNA: Trump did not withdraw from JCPOA on the previous occasions. What caused the White House this time, in return for the previous occasions, to order the withdrawal?
Trump’s approach is that of a scaremongerer. He hates the agreement because it has been done by others and promised to withdraw. Over the last year he tried to withdraw by forcing Congress to do the job for him. That did not work, so now he has to do it himself (and take the risk associated with responsibility). He still leaves the door open just a bit because it will take time to reinstate the sanctions, and either there will be movement among the parties, for example along the lines of the Macron proposals, or there will be an Iranian decision to not comply any longer in which case Trump would shift the blame to Tehran, claiming he was right in his reading of Iranian intentions.
ILNA: How did public and high-ranking officials have reacted to Trump's decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal? Could the political and international consequences of emerging from leaving JCPOA lead to Republican defeat in the midterm Congressional elections in November?
I doubt that it will affect the Republicans negatively in the mid-term elections. Those opposed to Trump are not convinced by this president anyhow, those in support of him will feel encouraged because he delivers on a campaign promise. Those in between may give him credit for being tough without triggering a war, in particular should US pressure show some effect on de-nuclearizing North-Korea. In the latter case, the general public will be more favorable to Trump and his party.
ILNA: In the last weeks leaders of the European Union made a lot of effort to persuade Trump to stay in JCPOA. And after Trump announced his withdraw, many EU officials fiercely reacted to this decision. Along with this, we witnessed disagreements between the United States and Europe over issues such as NATO, the transfer of embassy to Qods and business relations. Could this be a serious divide in the relations between the parties and the flow of more Europeans to Iran?
The current disagreement is the most serious rift I have seen in Transatlantic relations for decades. The last time a similarly fundamental gap opened between the US and Western Europe over the Soviet invasion into Afghanistan in 1979. Mostly, Europeans (and Americans for that matter) avoid to make their disagreement fully open, not to trigger strong sentiments in public resulting in additional pressures on governments to hold its ground.
Iran will not and cannot benefit from this, as a deeper rift with the US will not make Europeans softer on Iran. Europe is behind JCPOA because it is a essential step in Europe’s non-proliferation policy. In this sense, the Iranian position on the nuclear issue is as much a problem as the US dismissal of negotiated suspension of nuclearization.
ILNA: Federica Mogherini has announced that Europe will work hard to keep things going. What do you think Europe should do in this way? What is the European version of this?
Europeans need to remain united in their adherence to the agreement, and engage with all others to reinforce that position. At the same time, they need to see whether the partners to the agreement are ready to open talks about other aspects of the relationship and indicate what could be on offer in the context of additional agreements.
ILNA: In his recent speech, Trump announced that, in addition to imposing sanctions on Iran, anyone who has economic cooperation with Tehran will be punished and boycotted, even Europe. Will Europeans be able to protect nuclear deal in this situation?
No, Europe won’t. The exposure to the US market is much larger than the volume of trade with Iran. Europeans might find ways to protect themselves legally from applied extraterritoriality, but when in doubt, US practice will counter that. If it won’t be federal courts than it will be state courts imposing large fines on European corporations and banks for violating US legislation in their business elsewhere.
ILNA: In the face of the Trump’s decision, Iran provisionally decided to remain in the JCPOA minus the United States. Was that the right decision? How long do you think Iran will remain in this deal? What other options does Iran have about this matter?
That absolutely was the right way to respond. The worst would be to hand to Trump material to justify his decisions. Iran should also understand that the economic side of the deal won’t work as planned in light of the US decision, at least as far as Europe is concerned. Adhering to the agreement would be best way to secure a continued close relationship with Europe, and thus secure attention and understanding for Iran’s security interests.
ILNA: In last weeks, Iranian President, Hassan Rohani, and Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, have talked about the possibility of Tehran leaving Nuclear Non - Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Do you take that option to be practical? What will be the aftermath of this action in the international arena for both Iran and United States?
No. If Iran wants to strongly alienate Europe, it should leave NPT.
ILNA: How do you assess the impact of America’s withdraw on the Middle East equations? Will we be witnessing increasing tensions between Iran and U.S in regions like Syria and Iraq?
In my view, we will see rising tensions, though much depends on how Iran responds to the US withdrawal. Will Tehran do the obvious and follow a line of "eye for an eye“ or will the Iranian government adhere to the terms for a long enough period to explore options with the other signatory states?
ILNA: Did Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates play a decisive role in withdrawal of the United States? Do you think Israeli lobbyists played a determinant role in this matter?
No, they did not play a major role. US decision making on issues of such significance is not determined from the outside. It can be helped through public diplomacy, Influencing the perceptions of the public, though that is marginal.
Interview: Kamran Baradaran