If the U.S. pulls out of the Iran nuclear deal, how will the European countries currently doing business with Iran respond? NPR’s Michel Martin asks Robert Guest, the foreign editor of The Economist.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump faces a deadline this week. He will have to decide by Saturday whether to withdraw the U.S. from the nuclear deal it signed with Iran and five other countries in 2015. The agreement loosened sanctions on Iran in exchange for limits on its nuclear program. Now, one of the outcomes of that deal has been increased business between Iran and the European countries that co-signed the deal. So as President Trump threatens to pull the U.S. out of the deal, there are questions about what that means for Germany, France and the U.K. Will they stay in the deal? Will they continue to do business with Iran? Here to help us answer some of these questions is Robert Guest. He is the foreign editor for The Economist. Mr. Guest, thanks so much for joining us.
ROBERT GUEST: My pleasure.
MARTIN: So why don’t you start by setting up what kind of business interests Germany, France and the U.K. currently have in Iran? And has the lifting of sanctions bolstered trade between those countries?
GUEST: It has by a great deal less than than you might think. Businesses, particularly sort of the airline businesses like Airbus, I mean, the same as the American Boeing, are very keen to sell things to Iran. And they’ve signed some undertakings to do so, about 20 billion from Airbus, roughly 20 billion from Boeing as well. But they haven’t actually delivered the stuff yet. It’s all sort of talking about doing it. And you see oil interests maybe a bit more advanced than that. Total from France has a 5 billion deal for gas development in Iran. But there’s been rather less than you might think, partly because not everybody is completely trusting that this deal would last forever.
MARTIN: So the question is, if the U.S. pulls out, what happens? Will these deals or these agreements in principle go through? Would the countries face fines? How would it work?
GUEST: I suspect an awful lot of it will fall – will collapse because, you know, if you’re a company of any size doing business globally – and, frankly, if you’re a big oil company or an airline maker, then you are – then you can’t really afford to fall onto the American sanctions list. You know, if you want to ever be able to do any kind of deal in dollars, which would have to clear in America, you just don’t want to get on the wrong side of the U.S. government. So I suspect it would mean a lot of these things would go back to the drawing board. For a much smaller company, then it’s different, you know. You can maybe fly under the radar. But for the big stuff, I suspect it’s just not going to happen.
MARTIN: Well, the British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, has just arrived in Washington actually, where it looks like he will be making a last-ditch effort to persuade the Trump administration to stay in the deal. What is your sense of the arguments that he will be making?
GUEST: Well, he will be saying that it would be a strategic blunder to pull out of this deal. We’ve had the argument being made that the Iranians have in the past lied about their nuclear ambitions. The prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, made that very publicly and in English for Mr. Trump’s hearing. And that is, of course, true. They were lying about it. They did have a bomb-building program. But that’s, you know, you do deals with your enemies. You do arms control deals with your enemies, not with your friends. And the deal is – it’s verifiable. The Iranians, as far as we can tell – and we really looked very hard – are keeping to the terms of it. If we pull out when they’re not breaking it, it’s incredibly damaging to the global arms control system. It suggests that, you know, America can’t be trusted to keep its word. And that’s incredibly destabilizing. And that’s what I think Boris Johnson will be telling him.
MARTIN: That’s Robert Guest. He’s foreign editor for The Economist. And he was kind enough to join us from his home office outside of London. Mr. Guest, thank you so much for being with us.