Amid ongoing saber rattling between the United States and Iran, two European envoys have been dispatched to attempt to save the Iran Nuclear Deal. Emmanuel Bonne, representing French President Emmanuel Macron, was in Tehran this week, and British Foreign Minister (and Prime Ministerial candidate) Jeremy Hunt is headed for Brussels. Meanwhile, Iran says it’s ready to talk, conditionally. It seems unlikely the United States will be as willing to listen.
On Wednesday, Bonne held talks in Tehran with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and separately with security chief Ali Shamkhani. Reportedly, Macron suggested Iran should stop enriching uranium in exchange for the United States temporarily easing oil sanctions. In response, Zarif told reporters on Thursday, “you cannot expect Iran to stop its measures as long as the United States continues its economic war against Iran.” Bonne delivered a handwritten message from Macron to his counterpart, President Hassan Rouhani, but said it was not from the United States. Indeed, as Bonne was wrapping up his meetings, President Trump tweeted that “sanctions will soon be increased, substantially!”
Mr. Hunt will be in Brussels Monday with his counterparts from France and Germany to encourage Iran to stick to the deal. The Islamic Republic hasn’t seen much reason for adhering to the deal since the United States pulled out. A joint statement expressed a sense of concern, and seemed geared toward talking Iran and the U.S. off the proverbial ledge. “We believe the time has come to act responsibly and seek a path to stop the escalation of tensions and resume dialogue,” it read. “The risks are such that it is necessary for all stakeholders to pause and consider the possible consequences of their actions.” Ahead of the meeting, Hunt said an oil tanker, which was seized by the UK earlier this month, could be released if Iran could guarantee the oil would not be bound for Syria.
For what it’s worth, Iran says it is ready to hold talks with the United States, so long as Washington lifts sanctions and returns to the deal. “We have always believed in talks,” President Rouhani said Sunday. “If they lift sanctions, end the imposed economic pressure, and return to the deal, we are ready to hold talks with America today, right now, and anywhere.” Iran wants to be able to export as much crude oil— its main foreign source of revenue—as it did before the U.S. pulled out. This seems unlikely. The United States has instead insisted on talks without preconditions, and, with the Iranian economy in free fall, from Washington’s point of view, the sanctions appear to be working.
Given the increasingly tense situation in the Gulf, and the well-known, ongoing power struggle between the hawks and the isolationists within the Trump administration, it remains anyone’s guess as to whether diplomacy or military action will reign, or something in between. After all, Trump recently called off an attack on Iran at the last minute. For whatever reason, the markets seem to think that, one way or another, this coming week will be it. That, if there isn’t some kind of military action against Iran, there won’t be in the near future. With Brussels’ experience in working against seemingly hard deadlines and flexible timelines, a week may be all that is needed to prevent the outbreak of something more serious.