Trump’s Non-Choice on Iran

Ellie Geranmayeh of the European Council on Foreign Relations has an op-ed in the New York Times today speculating on the future of the Iran nuclear deal under Trump. The piece provides a good overview of the Iran-related issues facing the new president, this time from a European perspective. Basically, Trump’s choice on Iran isn’t really much of a choice at all. He can certainly try to fulfill his pledge to “dismantle” the deal if he wants, but most, if not all, of the actions he could take — reinstating old sanctions, adding new ones, etc. — won’t mean much if he can’t get the rest of the P5+1 to go along with them. At the moment, that appears highly unlikely.

For the Europeans, in particular, the financial incentive is weighted strongly in favor of maintaining the deal. When I was in Iran earlier this year, I witnessed a parade of European delegations coming to the hotel where I stayed in Iran to sign trade memorandums. I was also a co-author of a study released a few years ago that examined the potential opportunity cost to sanction-enforcing countries as a result of trade sanctions against Iran. The numbers ran into the tens of billions of dollars for several European economies. Germany was the hardest hit, followed by Italy and France. I recently updated those figures and will be releasing them in a new report in the coming weeks, and the estimated trade loss from 2010-2014 for Germany alone now approaches $100 billion. The chances that the Europeans willingly give up this kind of money to satisfy the ideological whims of an Iranophobic Trump administration are slim-to-none, so enforcement depends more on how hard the United States is willing to twist its allies’ arms to get its way.

Perhaps Mr. Trump, once he takes office, will realize the silver lining in maintaining the deal. His supposed qualification for the Presidency rested primarily on his sharp business acumen and his success as a global hotelier, so the increased tourism Iran is likely to experience with improved diplomatic and economic relations may provide an opportunity for Mr. Trump to accomplish something of actual importance to him: building a Trump hotel in Tehran.

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