Has Trump Boxed the EU and Britain into a Corner Over Iran?

The 2015 Iran Deal has proven to be a catastrophe that has failed to alleviate tensions between Iran and the United States. It was flawed from the beginning because it allowed the Islamic Republic to continue to fund terrorist groups and only delayed Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

Because of the agreement’s flaws, this made it easy for Donald Trump to campaign against the 2015 Deal during the 2016 US Presidential Election. Once he was elected, he scrapped the document in 2018. Since the President fulfilled his manifesto promise, no alternative arrangement has been proposed, but it seems the US is preparing for war. CNN reported that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed the Trump administration is considering military options for dealing with the Islamic Republic. This has also been confirmed by National Security adviser John Bolton. The US recently sent 1,000 troops and military resources to the Middle East following the May deployment of a Navy strike group and a bomber task force to the region.

Furthermore, unnamed US officials quoted by Reuters and AP news agencies, said that an American military drone was shot down by an Iranian missile near  the nation’s airspace over the Strait of Hormuz, south of Iran. This contradicts reports by the Islamic Republic’s state-run IRNA news agency. They said the country’s Revolutionary Guard had shot down an American drone in its airspace near the Kouhmobarak district in southern Iran’s Hormozgan province. The Guards’ commander-in-chief, Hossein Salami, said the downing of the drone ‘”carried a clear message” to America that “our borders are Iran’s red line and we will react strongly against any aggression.”

The US has blamed Iran for attacks on tankers and cargo ships in the Gulf of Oman and Strait of Hormuz, a major transit route for global oil supplies. Tehran has denied any involvement in placing mines on the tanker Kokuka Courageous, which was stationed near the Navy’s 5th Fleet base near Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates.

As tensions between Washington and Tehran escalate, Trump has enabled both the UK and the EU to be boxed into a corner over the Iran Deal’s future. Both of them support the Obama-era agreement and even after Britain leaves the EU, it is unlikely there will be a radical departure in foreign policy towards the Islamic Republic post-Brexit. But Britain and most EU member states are in NATO, and it is through this alliance that the UK and Brussels can carve out a workable alternative to the 2015 Deal.

One of the key reasons the Remain campaign failed to convince voters that leaving the EU would undermine Britain’s defences was because of its NATO membership. Theresa May succeeded in persuading Trump of NATO’s value during their first meeting, and the President has declared his support for the alliance since. Both Iran and the US have reservations about another Middle Eastern conflict. If it happens, Britain and the EU should support the US because of their historical links to Washington. But with continuing reluctance among them all to go to war, there is still a chance to forge a deal that ‘trumps’ Obama’s agreement if NATO members cooperate.

NATO countries should persuade Washington to forge an agreement which implements thresholds preventing nations from trading with Iran, issues more sanctions to prevent the Revolutionary Guard from prospering, and instructs the US Treasury to clarify that offshored dollarised transactions would be subject to American jurisdiction. These measures would prevent Tehran from acquiring the funds to develop nuclear weapons and send a message that NATO will not tolerate the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions and funding of terrorist organisations.

Trump’s actions may have put his allies in a difficult spot, but there is no reason why the UK and EU nations cannot use NATO to persuade the President to draft a better deal and play on Tehran’s and Washington’s reluctance to go to war. NATO can make a difference here.