Trans-Atlantic rift widens

Abdur Rahman Chowdhury | Published: June 01, 2018 20:44:29 | Updated: June 01, 2018 22:33:45

It became increasingly clear from mid-April that President Trump would withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. French President Emanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel made desperate attempts to dissuade Trump from repudiating the deal. Both shared some US concerns and pledged to bring adjustments to the international agreement. British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson also visited Washington, met Trump and other officials, and cautioned against unilateral action. But Trump remained recalcitrant and on May 08 announced withdrawal from the agreement alleging, "The Iran deal is defective at its core. If we do nothing, we know exactly what will happen. It did not bring calm, it did not bring peace and it never will."

As expected, Iran reacted angrily and vowed to re-engage in the uranium enrichment program. President Rouhani, however, said his government remains committed to a nuclear deal despite the US decision to withdraw. But he reiterated his government's desire to enrich uranium beyond the agreed level if his country's needs are not met. Rouhani called Trump's tactics "psychological warfare" and urged his people to resist US pressure on Iran.

The nuclear deal was negotiated during the first term of President Rouhani. He defied criticism of the hardliners and assured the people that the deal would unfreeze Iranian resources held abroad, which were urgently needed to reinvigorate the Iranian economy. He took a great political risk and his team led by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif painstakingly negotiated the agreement. The supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, however, did not accord blessings to the agreement; but accepted it in the hope that lifting of sanctions would unfreeze the resources needed for revival of the Iranian economy.

The hardliners have now returned to the streets, and warned the Rouhani government that it was a grave mistake to trust the United States. They are urging the Iranian government to resume the uranium enrichment programme without further waiting.

The Trump administration failed to single out the breaches Iran had made in the implementation of the agreement. The US intelligence agencies confirmed very recently that Tehran has been in compliance with the agreement. The International Atomic Energy Agency has been periodically certifying that Iran has been implementing the agreement without any breach. Even the Israeli Intelligence admitted that there has not been any breach by Tehran in the implementation of the nuclear agreement. The Intelligence agencies around the world did not observe any breach in the implementation of the agreement and were unanimous in their assessment that Tehran had been in compliance with the nuclear deal.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and US President Trump remain the two individuals who from the beginning of the negotiation expressed vehement opposition to conclude any agreement with Iran. Of late, Saudi Arabia has joined the US-Israeli coalition in advocating for abdication of the nuclear deal. Riyadh has been engaged in direct warfare in Yemen, particularly against the dissident group armed by Tehran and has purchased American weapons valued at billions of dollars.

The European countries rushed to assure Iran that they remained committed to the agreement. They would not like to decommission the inspection protocol which record around two million digital images a day at key nuclear sites in Iran. The experts firmly maintained that the agreement stretched Iran's breakout time to build a bomb from a few weeks to a year. The Europeans would not like to risk losing the surveillance program by scuttling the agreement. The EU countries together with China and Russia have resolved to abide by the agreement despite US pullout and the threat of another round of sanctions that might affect investment and trading activities by European commercial farms.

European leaders are no longer polite in condemning Trump. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said recently that Trump's assault on Iran deal had created a real crisis for the global order. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire observed that unilateral US imposition of sanctions as "economic policeman of the planet" is not acceptable. Others are labelling Trump as a danger to Europe's security interests.

JERUSALEM ISSUE: The recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and the decision to relocate American embassy from Tele Aviv to West Jerusalem marked an end to Washington's role as a peace-broker in the region. For the past twenty years, the successive US administration had tried to mediate in the Israel-Palestinian conflict with little success. They came out with a "Two-State Formula," implying Israel and Palestine would exist side by side as neighbours, which received wide support in the Arab world. But the peace process got frequently derailed due to intransigence of Israeli leadership, and expansion of settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Nonetheless, the moderates among the Palestinians remained hopeful that with suspension of settlements and addressing of other issues, peace could be restored. Now, Trump's action on Jerusalem has destabilized the troubled region once again and dashed all hopes for a two-state solution.

The relocation celebration sparked violence along Israel's border with Palestine leaving over 60 dead and 2700 seriously injured. The dead included infants and women. There was worldwide condemnation against excessive force applied by the Israeli army against unarmed demonstrators. The Human Rights groups denounced the killings. The UN Security Council observed one minute silence as a mark of condolence at the killings of unarmed Palestinian civilians.

French Foreign Minister termed the relocation of American embassy to Jerusalem as a violation of international law as well as Security Council resolutions. The British Ambassador in Brussels said, "The status of Jerusalem should be determined in a negotiation between Israel and Palestinians and Jerusalem should ultimately be the shared capital of Israelis and Palestinians."

The envoys from China, Sweden and the Netherlands in the UN reiterated their government's position that Jerusalem should be left to negotiation and stated their intentions to keep embassies in Tele Aviv. Bolivia's representative said, "The transfer of US embassy to Jerusalem would inflame violence and the US which supports the occupying power has become an obstacle to peace. It has become part of the problem, not part of the solutions." Surprisingly, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia observed complete silence on the carnage in Palestine.

Jared Kushner and the Jews in Trump administration are trying to impress the Jewish community that Trump administration has rendered a great service to Judaism by according recognition to Jerusalem as Israel's capital and by finally transferring the US embassy to Jerusalem. But they are sadly mistaken. A poll last year by the American Jewish Committee found that 68 per cent American Jews opposed an immediate relocation of the embassy to Jerusalem. A young American Jew recently wrote in the Washington Post, "Many Americans have had considerable trouble condemning Israel for killing at least 60 Palestinians at the Gaza border. That should upset no one more than American Jews………..It is difficult to keep saying that we are pro-Israel but not pro-occupation when our own government seems to have conflated the two, enabling Israel's leaders to act with impunity. It's more difficult still when our president, our representatives and many older Jews refuse to speak out even against acts as atrocious as Monday's slaughter. As the US government draws closer to Israel, the rising generation of Jewish Americans has already started to push further away. Weeks such as this one will only hasten the shift."

People in Europe have now arrived at a conclusion that their economic, social, political and security concerns are no longer the bedrock of America's foreign policy. Washington's disengagement from the Paris Climate Agreement, withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and relocation of its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem came as a reminder to the Europeans that Trump's doctrine of "America First" implies "America Alone," and they have taken this development with all seriousness.

The writer is a former official of the United Nations.

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