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Europe And The Iran Deal


Iran announced this week it would stop complying with parts of the Iran nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, unless the EU, Russia and China protected Iran's oil and banking industries from increased U.S. sanctions. The EU rejected that ultimatum and now hopes to find a way to dissuade Iran from reopening a nuclear program. I'm joined now by Pierre Vimont. He's a senior fellow at Carnegie Europe. He's been French ambassador to the United States, as well as the European Union. Mr. Ambassador, thanks for being with us.

PIERRE VIMONT: And thank you for inviting me.

SIMON: Are the Europeans, including Britain - if I might include them as Europeans for the next few weeks - stuck in a tight spot between the U.S. and Iran?

VIMONT: Yes. They are. They are. As they said, they refused the ultimatum. And the Iranians are already replying that this is not an ultimatum. They're asking the Europeans to be more firm and to try to support Iran in sticking to this nuclear deal. And the room for maneuver is not very large for the Europeans. So during the two months that the Iranians have left to the Europeans to find a way out of the current gridlock, they certainly have to come up with new ideas and with a little bit of creativity. This is really what it's all about.

SIMON: Well, what would be a new idea in your mind?

VIMONT: Well, the Europeans have set up a new financial mechanism that could finance humanitarian trade, namely food and pharmaceutical products against the revenues that the Iranians get from their oil exports. But the whole problem is that the Americans have now banned any kind of oil exports for Iran and are watching closely at the same time this financial scheme the Europeans have set up and seem to be somewhat ambiguous about that humanitarian trade. So on both ends of that new scheme, it is very difficult to find a way of moving forward and making that scheme as operational as possible. This is where we are at the moment. And if the Europeans cannot find a way of making this new scheme work, then we will be back to square one with the Iranians threatening to get out of the nuclear deal.

SIMON: Iranians want to rejoin the world economy. And the U.S. and Europe would seem to share a powerful interest in having them not develop capability with nuclear weapons. What stands between everybody reaching a common agreement?

VIMONT: I think it's lack of trust more than anything else. The Americans - and this can be understood - have a lot of complaints against the Iranians not only for what happened 40 or 50 years ago at the American Embassy in Tehran but also for all the interference from Iran into many of the crises we're witnessing at the moment in the Middle East - Syria, Yemen. And on their side, the Iranians are saying that they have to do that in order to defend themselves against countries which, in their opinion, are trying to get rid of the current Iranian regime. And as long as you don't have - I don't know - someone in between an honest broker who tried to bring both sides back to the negotiating table, there is a risk that this kind of confrontation and escalation will go on. The whole point here is how to find a diplomatic way of making both sides talk to each other again and start to move towards compromise, concessions and a way out of this current deadlock where we are.

SIMON: Ambassador Pierre Vimont, thanks so much.

VIMONT: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.