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Europe, Iran Foreign Ministers Will Try To Salvage Nuclear Deal


Today in Brussels, the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Great Britain will be meeting with their Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif. They are talking about how to salvage the Iran nuclear deal after President Trump pulled the United States out last week. That nuclear deal freed European companies to do business with Iran. Those commitments and investments are now under threat as the United States reimposes sanctions. Wolfgang Ischinger is on the line. He's a former German ambassador to the United States. He's now chairman of the Munich Security Conference, and he joins us from Munich. Ambassador, thanks so much for being here.

WOLFGANG ISCHINGER: Good morning. Good morning. Great to listen to you.

GREENE: Well, so when President Trump withdrew from this deal, his new ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell basically instructed German companies to stop doing business in Iran. He said, quote, "wind down operations immediately." How did you react to that?

ISCHINGER: Well, you know, in a way, Rick Grinnell, Ambassador Grinnell, of course made an obvious point. The reimposition of U.S. sanctions will make it extremely difficult if not totally impossible for many, especially the larger European companies, to continue doing business in Iran because they are also doing business with the United States. And faced with the decision to risk what is in almost all cases major business in the U.S. as opposed to a little bit of business in Iran, I would imagine most companies would probably decide not to continue their Iranian business connections because they would be threatened with risks to their American engagement. In other words...

GREENE: So you're really saying they have no choice.

ISCHINGER: Well, that's what I'm saying. Absolutely. And there is actually - whether one likes it or not - there is very little that governments - in this case, the German government, the French government or other European governments - can do about it. It's one thing for us to say we do not share the conviction that President Trump has expressed that this is a bad deal, we believe we should uphold the deal because it prevents, at least for the next decade and beyond, Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. And, by the way, let me just make one thing clear to your listeners. We do share - everybody here shares the Trump administration's view that this is not a perfect deal. Actually, you know, as a longtime diplomat, I haven't seen the perfect deal in my lifetime.

GREENE: (Laughter).

ISCHINGER: Most arms control deals are incomplete because they don't cover a certain type of weapon that maybe should be covered also.

GREENE: But Europeans still - sorry for interrupting you, but, I mean Europeans still believed in this deal. And this raises a larger question for me. I mean, when the ambassador basically lectured German companies, you tweeted, never tell a host country what to do. And I think about that. I think about German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying after Trump's election that Europe needs to control its own destiny. But, you know, we have this meeting today. What actually is this meeting about if President Trump and the United States basically has the upper hand here in many ways?

ISCHINGER: Well, again, let's keep things in perspective. It's one question for us politically to tell the Iranians we are interested and we are prepared. We the Europeans, but also others involved in this deal like China and Russia, I suppose. We are interested in upholding the deal. So we want to respect it, and of course that can only work if Iran also continues to respect and accept the obligations it has accepted under the deal, which, again will make it impossible for Iran to pursue the nuclear weapons enrichment et cetera, et cetera, processes for at least the next decade. So we believe there is something useful, very useful, very important in the deal that should be preserved. Can we convince Iran to respect the deal? Well, the Iranians will probably tell these European ministers today, how can we Iranians uphold the deal if all the business advantages that we have been promised are not going to materialize, if many of these large companies in Europe are not going to invest any serious money in Iran, and why should we then honor the deal? So I...

GREENE: Yeah. Then Iran has no incentive to really honor the deal at all or be in it. So I mean this sounds like the odds are against the Europeans in many ways, but you're saying that the best hope is to get Iran to somehow be on board enough that, what, the United States will then not necessarily reimpose these sanctions and there might be a way forward with the United States?

ISCHINGER: Well, I'm not sure that that would work. What I think we should do is try to help the United States understand that preserving the deal is actually not a bad idea. Maybe we can work with Iran to behave better in the future in all other areas, also.

GREENE: All right. Wolfgang Ischinger, former German ambassador to the U.S. and chairman of the Munich Security Conference.

Thanks so much.

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

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