EU-US Showdown Over Iran Sanctions a ‘Trainwreck in the Making’

© AP Photo / Emrah GurelTurkish Liras, Euros and U.S. Dollars are stacked at a currency exchange office in Istanbul, Turkey (File)
Turkish Liras, Euros and U.S. Dollars are stacked at a currency exchange office in Istanbul, Turkey (File) - Sputnik International
Several developments in European politics, such as Germany’s move to complete the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and comments by French President Emmanuel Macron that Europe needs to look to its own security, signal a shift away from US domination of European geopolitics. Could this be the beginning of a new geopolitical order?

"Europe can no longer entrust its security to the United States alone," Macron told an assembly of French ambassadors Monday, Politico reported. "It's up to us to guarantee our security."

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"The history of these peoples is made with Europe. We must accept that there will be a large Europe — larger even than the European Union," he said, indicating the need to engage with Turkey and Russia on multiple issues.

He also maintained his country's position on staying in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal, which the US left in May. US President Donald Trump has indicated that economic sanctions will return against Iran and countries that do business with it, with the first round beginning earlier this month, while the other signatories to the agreement — France, UK, Germany, Russia and China — have all said they are staying inside the agreement, as the three years since it was struck have yielded substantial trade growth between the nations.

Further, on Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas attacked US attempts to influence European energy policy with economic sanctions against Turkey, Russia and Iran, which have affected German businesses.

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"It is simply unacceptable to use sanctions to influence European energy policy," he said, indicating the US intends to force Europe to buy American liquified natural gas (LNG) instead of cheaper Russian gas via the Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2 pipelines. "[W]e are not participating in a discussion, which aims to stop Nord Stream 2. We support the EU Commission instead, currently trying to reach an agreement with Russia and Ukraine on the long-term continuation of natural gas transit through Ukraine," Sputnik reported.

Radio Sputnik's Loud & Clear spoke with Peter Lavelle, host of "CrossTalk" on RT, about these developments and what's driving them.

"I think it all goes back… to the US pulling out of the Iran deal," Lavelle told hosts Brian Becker and Walter Smolarek. "The Europeans are horrified by this. This is an indication that the United States — in their eyes their ‘great protector' — is not a reliable partner, and it's really beginning to sink in. It's sinking in so deep that now they have to risk the wrath of the US Treasury Department over sanctions of NATO allies."

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"The power the United States has over its European allies and much of the world is financially," he noted, so to have a major European Union figure discussing alternatives to the US-controlled SWIFT system "is saying a whole lot," he said.

On Monday, Maas told a group of ambassadors in Berlin that It was "high time we reassess the transatlantic partnership in a sober, critical and even self-critical way," so as to "strengthen the autonomy and sovereignty of Europe in trade, economic and financial policies," Sputnik reported.

"It will not be easy, but we have already begun to do it. We are working on proposals pertaining to… payment channels and creating a payment system independent of SWIFT to establish a European currency fund," Maas noted.

Last week, Maas wrote in German newspaper Handelsblatt about the need to create an EU payment system to serve as a "counterweight" to the US whenever Washington "crosses red lines."

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"Single-handedly, we will fail in this task. The main goal of our foreign policy is therefore to build a strong, sovereign Europe. That's why it is indispensable that we strengthen European autonomy by creating payment channels that are independent of the United States, a European Monetary Fund and an independent SWIFT system," Maas wrote.

Building a separate system from "the European banking clearance system, SWIFT… is one way to get around the US Treasury," Lavelle noted, which is responsible for implementing US economic sanctions. US lawmakers have, in recent days, urged their European counterparts not to try and circumvent sanctions regarding Iran. Lavelle indicated that EU countries are moving to protect their companies that do business in Iran, because if they don't, "China and Russia will pick up the void. Who knows, maybe other countries as well."

"The United States is playing a game of chicken that it is very likely they will lose," Lavelle told Sputnik. "See, this is the game of threats and bluffs. Now the Europeans are beginning to say, ‘OK, call, and show me your cards! Are you really going to go through [with] it?'"

However, he indicated that the Trump administration is presently "ready to go eye-to-eye" with EU countries over this dispute.

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"This is a trainwreck in the making, because the European Union, their companies have extensive business operations around the world. So what they're afraid of is, if the US goes after them because of Iran, they could go down this path" of sanctioning them elsewhere because of their business with Iran.

"That's the real trade war you have to worry about, because it's not just inequality — I actually agree with Trump that a lot of trade deals should be redone — because the original trade deals since the Second World War were for geopolitical reasons, not for economic reasons." He noted that countries would receive preferential trade agreements as a reward for joining the "western, Washington consensus" instead of entering the orbits of China or the Soviet Union and their socialist economic systems.

"That is all being overturned, and that's why so many people are so bewildered, because particularly the Europeans, they never could imagine that the hegemon could turn its back on them."

He predicted that, if pressed hard enough by the United States to assume its own defense costs, EU nations will begin to say, "Well, the Russian threat isn't as bad as we thought," because they don't want to have to build a continent-wide military apparatus to combat "a threat that doesn't really, actually exist."

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"It's the US that is having serious second thoughts about what its role is in the international order." That's what Trump's America First is about, Lavelle noted.

But, he said, "the European cannot comprehend what Donald Trump is trying to do." Thus, he predicted, little will actually come of French or German posturing, because, "The Europeans have neutered themselves for decades."

By contrast, "Everyone wants to talk to [Russian President] Vladimir Putin these days," Lavelle told Sputnik, "and he is quite willing to listen."

He also noted that Turkey is "coming into being what it really is; it is a regional superpower… the Turks already know that they're never going to be part of the European Union," which is why they're pursuing their own regional policies with regards to Russia, Iran and Syria.

"There's nothing the US can do about it anymore."

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