European leaders have sharply criticized President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the landmark 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran. France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the European Union have opened negotiations with Iran to see if they can keep Iran in the agreement, and European diplomats began meeting this week to discuss strategies to insulate European companies from the U.S. sanctions that the Trump administration plans to reimpose later this year.
Administration officials and many experts in Washington have dismissed Europe’s ability to block U.S. sanctions, arguing that European companies are far more invested in the United States than Iran and will generally comply with U.S. sanctions regardless of developments in Brussels. French energy giant Total, for example, announced this week that it would stop investing in an Iranian gas field unless it can win an exemption from renewed U.S. sanctions.
But the Trump administration’s confidence in European acquiescence to renewed U.S. sanctions may be misplaced. While officials are correct that large European companies will generally comply with U.S. sanctions absent countervailing measures by Brussels, if the European Union is prepared to risk a major rift with Washington over Iran, member governments have tools to block U.S. sanctions. The administration should seek a diplomatic resolution to the brewing conflict if the alternative is watching Europe take steps that will undermine U.S. sanctions around the world.
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