In his address on Iran’s strikes on US targets in Iraq, President Trump told his European allies that it was time for them to wake up to the fact that the nuclear deal was a disaster.
“Iran’s hostilities substantially increased after the foolish Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2013,” Trump said. “Instead of saying thank you to the United States, they chanted ‘Death to America.’ In fact, they chanted ‘Death to America’ the day the agreement was signed. They Iran went on a terrorist spree funded by the money from the deal and created hell in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq.”
He called out Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Russia and China — five of the eight signees to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as JCPOA or the Iran nuclear deal. (The other three were the European Union, Iran and of course the US, which under Trump has withdrawn from the agreement.)
The face-off between the US and Iran has put Trump’s European allies in an incredibly tight spot.
The JCPOA was considered a European success — and the only real foreign policy success of the European Union. It wasn't just a success on the grounds that it poured cold water on US-Iran tensions. It also provided Europe with a forum in which it could navigate its major priority in foreign policy: keeping a balance between the US and China.
China is very important economically to Europe. Its inward investment is welcomed across Europe, but especially in the continent’s struggling southern economies. China, meanwhile, is more than happy to increase its importance in the world's single largest economic bloc.
China also has historically good relations with Iran. And for those who've been paying attention, the thing China and Iran both have in common is that Trump is doing his best to poke both in the eye.
Here's what this all means: Asking Europe to stand by America in its scrap with Iran is asking it to pick a side: does it try to keep its new friends in Beijing and Tehran happy? Or does it stand by its old ally, despite the fact it’s led by a man that many European diplomats privately admit is so erratic that he gives them sleepless nights and might not even be in power next year?