Trump’s threats against Iran aggravate German-American tensions

By Johannes Stern
14 October 2017

In a militarist speech at the White House, US President Donald Trump announced new sanctions against Iran and threatened to terminate the 2015 nuclear agreement with the country. “Iran is not living up to the spirit of the deal,” said Trump yesterday. As a result, there will be new “tough sanctions” imposed on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, described by Trump as a “corrupt terror force.”

The US government will not re-certify the deal negotiated in 2015 and will leave it up to Congress to “strengthen” it. Should Iran not come to terms with the US Congress and others, Washington will terminate the agreement. The agreement “is under continuous review,” warned Trump, “our participation can be cancelled by me, as President, at any time. As we have seen in North Korea, the longer we ignore a threat, the worse that threat becomes.”

Trump’s aggressive course of action against Iran has elicited strong reactions in Berlin. Shortly after Trump’s speech, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel stepped before the cameras to declare: “That is a problematic and, in our view, dangerous sign. The deal with Iran showed for the first time that it is possible to prevent war through negotiations and, above all, to prevent a country from acquiring nuclear weapons.”

Gabriel, along with other leading political and media figures, have previously warned of the far-reaching military, political and economic consequences that could follow such a step. “A termination of the Iran agreement would turn the Middle East into a hotbed of crisis,” Gabriel said in an interview with Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland.

Asked if Trump was playing with “world peace in the matter of Iran,” Gabriel responded: “It would be a devastating blow to nuclear disarmament. Some states could see the breakdown of the Iran agreement as a sign that they should acquire nuclear weapons as quickly as possible.”

This concerns “far more than Iran,” added Gabriel. “It would be completely futile to push North Korea toward the adoption of a security treaty if the Iran deal falls through.” The world would “not be safer or more peaceful if we set the most dangerous element, the nuclear weapons, on edge again.” The agreement with Iran must “not be abandoned,” added Gabriel, because the “immediate threat of a new war would return.”

Gabriel’s warnings having nothing to do with pacifism. As the leading spokesperson for German and European militarism, his declared objective is the building of a Berlin-dominated European Army capable of enforcing its global interests independently of NATO and the US and, if necessary, against the latter.

“Europe’s security is Europe’s own responsibility,” writes the Social Democrat Gabriel in his latest book. “We must become capable of strategizing and acting from a foreign and security policy standpoint, because it is still insufficient. This includes defining our European interests and articulating them independently of the United States. This self-interest also requires to some extent an emancipation from the course charted by Washington.”

With Trump’s new Iran strategy, Gabriel and large sections of the German ruling class believe the time has come to put this aspiration into practice. One must tell the Americans “that their behaviour brings we Europeans to a common position with Russia and China against the US in the Iran question,” says Gabriel.

Like Germany, France and Great Britain, Beijing and Moscow are signatories to the 2015 Iran agreement and oppose its termination. Even politicians and media figures who have been rather pro-American and supported US-led wars, now speak openly of a break with the US.

The chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the German parliament, Norbert Röttgen (Christian Democratic Union, CDU) told the ZDF-Morgenmagazin that Trump is posing “the question of the United States’ compliance” with the agreement. Röttgen declared, “That is very fundamental. The Europeans will not follow them. We will have a transatlantic wedge between the US and Europe.”

The lead article in the latest edition of Die Zeit states that “America’s European partners, even the Brits, agree: the agreement must be obeyed. Should Trump break it, that would also mean a break with his partners. The Europeans must then try alone to maintain the diplomatic containment of the Iranian troublemakers. Inevitably without America—on the side of China and Russia.”

The German foreign office leaves no doubt that fundamental economic and geostrategic conflicts lie behind the breakup of the transatlantic alliance. Asked whether the answer to Trump’s Iran policy was significantly more European investment in Iran, Gabriel answered, “Yes. But if the United States threatens investment in Iran with punitive actions against the relevant businesses, then not much will be done with investment. That cannot be in our interest.”

Berlin, like Paris and London, has arranged contracts worth billions in Iran and sees Trump’s course as a threat to its efforts to develop new energy resources and markets for Germany’s export economy in Iran. As a result, the German economy had great hopes in the Iran agreement and the related suspension of sanctions in January 2016. The Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) reportedly expected a doubling of trade from €2.4 billion (2015) to €5 billion within two years and within five years an increase to €10 billion.

A return to the US-dictated sanctions regime would be “a blow to business for the significantly revived trade relations,” Volker Treier, the DIHK foreign business chief, commented to the German Press Agency. The German economy has “relied on the international agreement and with it the new conditions of lighter sanctions,” Treier added. After all, Iran has the second-largest natural gas and fourth-largest oil reserves in the world and the exploitation of this potential would be “very difficult” under new sanctions.

The working class must not underestimate these dangerous developments. As in the first half of the last century, the competition between the imperialist powers for markets and raw materials is leading once again to trade war and military conflict. Only a politically conscious intervention by the working class based on a socialist program can put a stop to the warmongers and prevent another catastrophe.

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