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European Leaders Mull Next Steps After U.S. Pulls Out Of Iran Deal


President Trump's dramatic decision to quit the Iran nuclear deal involves reinstating economic sanctions aimed at hurting the Iranian economy.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We will be putting on among the strongest sanctions that we've ever put on a country, and they're going into effect very shortly.

GREENE: And yesterday on our program, we asked Andrew Peek, the senior State Department official responsible for Iran, if the renewed sanctions will also be aimed at preventing American allies from doing business in Iran.


ANDREW PEEK: We certainly are going to be pushing and asking and cajoling them to disinvest, absolutely.

GREENE: Now Britain, France and Germany have pledged to remain in the nuclear deal even without Washington and despite new sanctions. And for more on how that might work, we're joined by one of the key negotiators of the Iran nuclear deal. Simon Gass was also the British ambassador to Iran from 2009 to 2011. He's on the line with us.

Welcome to the program.

SIMON GASS: Yeah. Thank you, David. Good to be here.

GREENE: Well, so you helped negotiate this deal. How do you see President Trump's decision? Why do you think this deal became unworkable for the United States?

GASS: Well, I think President Trump's decision has been greeted with dismay in Europe. This was an agreement with Iran which resolved the long-standing difficulty which we've had for more than 10 years, where we saw Iran's nuclear program developing. And this agreement managed to halt that program in its tracks and delivered what it said on the tin. So we felt that it was a good agreement which worked for European security as well as the security of other countries.

Now, clearly, President Trump takes a different view. He has some complaints about the deal which I don't think are particularly difficult to fix. But there's clearly a wider issue which is around Iran's behavior in the region. And it really looks as though what President Trump is trying to do is to coerce Iran through economic sanctions into arriving at a better agreement. I have to say I doubt whether that is what will happen.

GREENE: Well, I wanted to ask you about - you might doubt the possibility for a better agreement. Is there any possibility of that? I mean, President Trump seemed open to some kind of new framework. You're saying that some of his complaints or all of his complaints would not be that difficult to address. So even as the president is out here making this dramatic speech, have you heard of any discussions behind the scenes between U.S. and European officials to try to negotiate something new?

GASS: Well, you know, those discussions have been going on, David, for a number of months now, but they haven't arrived at a satisfactory conclusion. As I say, I think that there are ways of helping address some of President Trump's concerns. But those assume that the political will is there to arrive at that type of solution. My view, having seen President Trump's statement, is that the political will is not there and that essentially what President Trump wanted to do and has done is to achieve the United States' withdrawal from the agreement.

GREENE: Well, we just heard an official from President Trump's State Department saying that the United States is going to try and cajole European countries to stop doing business with Iran. Does that mean that as part of this, Europe is bracing for the U.S. to actually impose sanctions, blocking European business there?

GASS: Well, absolutely. What we have is U.S. secondary sanctions which have extra-territorial force and which will bite on European companies that wish also to operate in the United States. And it will make it extremely difficult for European companies to do substantial business with Iran. Nevertheless, the governments of the European Union are determined to try to keep the agreement going for as long as we possibly can.

GREENE: What are the implications if you have European corporations? I'm thinking like Airbus. I'm thinking like the French oil firm Total. I mean, these are - they've made business deals worth billions of dollars in Tehran. What are the implications if they are blocked from doing this kind of business?

GASS: Well, it puts them into an extremely difficult position. I'm sure the European governments will be looking at all the measures they can take to keep that business going. They might, for example, consider a blocking regulation which seeks to block U.S. action against European companies. They might seek to set up credit lines which are independent of the dollar. But the truth is that companies that have large interests in the United States are going to be deterred by the latest U.S. action from doing business also with Iran. And that will make a nuclear deal very hard to maintain. And under those circumstances, we could see Iran returning to the very dangerous nuclear program, which was what this agreement was all about.

GREENE: You said something pretty interesting a few months ago that really caught my attention. You know, Russia is part of this agreement, Russia and China and Europe and the United States. But you said that in - the Kremlin would be the happiest if this deal did fall apart. Why is that?

GASS: Well, what we've seen in recent years, of course, is concerted attempts by Russia undermine the Western alliance in various ways. And I think that they will see this as an opportunity to further wedge drive between the European Union and the United States' allies in Europe and the United States, which is the principal architect of Western security. You know, we find ourselves in an uncomfortable position by which, as a result of President Trump's decision, we have the United States in one camp on a very important international security issue and Britain, France and Germany all in pretty much the same position as Russia and China in another camp. Now, that makes it very difficult. It undermines, in my view, the confidence within the Western alliance. And I think that Russia will be pretty happy with that outcome.

GREENE: Simon Gass, the British negotiator on the Iran nuclear deal joining us this morning. We appreciate the time. Thanks a lot.

GASS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.