EU Ministers to Huddle Over Donald Trump Policy on Iran, Russia

EU Ministers to Huddle Over Donald Trump Policy on Iran, Russia ... 12/11/2016 Politics

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Emergency meeting on Sunday called to discuss agreements set during Obama administration; Trump has suggested he could upend them
The Grand Kremlin palace, left, stands inside the Kremlin palace complex. President-elect Donald Trump’s talk of closer ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin has raised concerns that a rapprochement between the two countries could reopen longstanding divisions within the European Union over the bloc's sanctions on Russia. Photo: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg News

* * * By Laurence Norman and Laurence Norman
BRUSSELS—European foreign ministers, unnerved by the election of Donald Trump as president, plan to huddle on how to handle relations with the U.S. over key issues like Russia and Iran at an emergency dinner called for Sunday night.
The European Union worked closely with the Obama administration to construct broad economic pressure against Russia over the Ukraine crisis and strike an agreement with Iran to scale back its nuclear program. During the presidential campaign, Mr. Trump suggested he could upend his predecessor’s policies on both issues.
A Trump administration disengaged or withdrawn from Europe and focused on domestic issues, as some in the region fear, would also pose major difficulties for the region, which has struggled to develop a more-integrated security and defense bloc.
Senior European diplomats say the bottom line is that for the first time in decades, leading European governments have little idea what the next U.S. president’s foreign policy will look like. Mr. Trump and his top foreign-policy advisers have had little contact with any top European leaders and their senior officials, although German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande have both briefly spoken with Mr. Trump since the election.
In a sign of that divide, EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini a few hours after Mr. Trump’s victory called on the bloc’s foreign-affairs ministers to hold a private dinner to discuss EU-U.S. relations on Sunday evening in Brussels, a day ahead of a scheduled meeting.
In the same hours, senior European officials were already warning of more turbulent trans-Atlantic ties ahead. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Europe must prepare for a “less predictable” U.S. foreign policy.
European diplomats have said that EU policy toward Russia and Iran could quickly present conflicts with the new administration.
Mr. Trump’s talk of closer ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin has raised concerns that a rapprochement between the two countries could reopen longstanding divisions within the bloc over its sanctions on Russia.
With U.S. prodding, the bloc imposed broad economic sanctions following Moscow’s intervention in the crisis in Ukraine in 2014. Those sanctions are up for renewal in late January, just days after Mr. Trump’s inauguration, but a decision on extending them is likely needed next month when EU leaders meet.
The Russian bombing of Aleppo and the failure to implement the 2015 Minsk cease-fire deal between Russia and Ukraine had made a rollover of sanctions nearly a sure thing, but that could now change.
“Mr. Trump’s election makes” the planned rollover of sanctions “more complicated,” said a senior European diplomat. “It is an issue that is going to need a great deal of consideration.”
EU foreign ministers are also preparing for a possible conflict over the July 2015 nuclear deal Iran signed with six world powers, including the U.S., Britain, France and Germany. On Monday, EU foreign ministers are set to reiterate their strong support for the full implementation of the agreement. During the campaign, Mr. Trump threatened to tear up the agreement, and Republicans, which still hold both houses of Congress, have long opposed the deal.
Any move in that direction could quickly sour trans-Atlantic ties at a critical juncture, presenting risks for both sides.
If the U.S. were blamed for wrecking the agreement, it is far from certain that Europe would resume sanctions on Iran that were a critical part of the economic pressure on Tehran to end its nuclear program.
However, European countries would want to avoid a fight over Iran precisely at the moment they are seeking to keep a Trump administration engaged in the region.
Some European officials are confident that Mr. Trump will focus more on ensuring strict Iranian implementation of the nuclear deal than actively unraveling the deal. But they admit there is absolutely no certainty on his approach.
“One can only guess” what will happen, said one senior official.
Perhaps the most critical challenge Europe may have to face in the medium term is how to react if a Trump presidency leads to U.S. disengaging from Europe and its defense.
European nations have been debating proposals from Ms. Mogherini to have Europe develop more “strategic autonomy”—the ability to act independently without U.S. acquiescence or assistance.
The plan, however, is moving very slowly. EU members have been unable to agree on the necessary steps to build increased European capability, even though the U.K., a long-term opponent of the idea, is leaving the bloc. EU governments also remain divided over proposals for common military spending.
Europe also faces an added complication: Mr. Trump has suggested he could walk away from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and its commitment to collective security if European countries fail to boost military spending. But raising their spending could further constrain the financial resources needed to realize the bloc’s common security ambitions.
“Now there is a legitimate expectation there will be a much greater level of pressure and member states are going to have to make choices,” the senior diplomat said.

--- Zoorkhaneh ---

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