European View: Who Is Responsible For Increased Strain Between U.S. And Iran? Rachel Martin talks to Nathalie Tocci, special adviser to the EU's foreign policy chief, about how European countries are trying to deescalate tensions between Iran and the U.S.
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European View: Who Is Responsible For Increased Strain Between U.S. And Iran?

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European View: Who Is Responsible For Increased Strain Between U.S. And Iran?

European View: Who Is Responsible For Increased Strain Between U.S. And Iran?

European View: Who Is Responsible For Increased Strain Between U.S. And Iran?

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/734665320/734665321" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Rachel Martin talks to Nathalie Tocci, special adviser to the EU's foreign policy chief, about how European countries are trying to deescalate tensions between Iran and the U.S.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump orders airstrikes against Iran and then pulls them back - that's according to a report that first appeared in The New York Times. The Trump administration is trying to figure out how to respond after Iran shot down a U.S. surveillance drone off of Iran's coast. The U.S. says that the drone actually came down in international waters. Iran insists the drone was flying in its sovereign airspace. And Iranian state TV has now released photos of what it claims to be wreckage of that drone.

At the heart of the current standoff between the U.S. and Iran is the 2015 nuclear deal. The U.S., the U.K., Russia, France, China and the EU - plus Iran - all agreed that Iran would get financial incentives if it scaled back its nuclear program. President Trump took the U.S. out of that deal last year. So how do the other countries still in the deal perceive this current moment? We're going to ask Nathalie Tocci. She's the special adviser to the EU's foreign policy chief and joins us on the line this morning.

Thank you so much for being here.

NATHALIE TOCCI: Pleasure.

MARTIN: What do you make of the Trump administration's decision reportedly to launch airstrikes against Iran and then pull them back?

TOCCI: Well, clearly the decision to pull them back seems, to me, to be caused by the fact that the Trump administration - or rather President Trump himself realizes that this is an extremely dangerous escalation that could trigger a war that he himself does not seem to want - perhaps others in his administration do. And the fact that he had initially decided to do so is part of an escalation cycle of sort of move and countermove between the United States and Iran. And at the origin of all this is, really, the United States' violation of the Iran nuclear deal last year.

MARTIN: But if he came this close to launching, essentially, a war with Iran, we don't know, at this point, whether or not he would make that decision in the future. How will the European Union respond if the United States wages an attack on Iran?

TOCCI: I think, at the moment, the European priority is really that of doing the best we can to ensure that there is full implementation with the Iran nuclear deal, indeed because we see the current escalation, really, as being caused by this violation in the first place. If there were to be an ongoing escalation, which neither one side nor the other manages to control and indeed does get out of hand, I very much doubt that Europeans - certainly not as European Union - would collectively decides to participate in such war.

MARTIN: Does Iran bear no responsibility for escalating the tension - I mean, when you think about the alleged attacks on the oil tankers and shooting down this drone?

TOCCI: I think that, certainly, one can say that Iran obviously holds responsibility for its actions. And I don't think neither me nor probably anyone else - certainly in Europe or in the United States - would want to see this kind of response. So indeed, Iran is playing into the escalation.

But I think what's important to highlight and I think that the real question that we should try and answer is beyond the blame game, where I think, you know, clearly there are no angels involved. How is it that we try to reverse this vicious cycle? And this is why I come back to the Iran nuclear deal and the importance of implementing the Iran nuclear deal because the point is how to remove the incentive of the Iranians themselves for these measures of what they view as being retaliation, essentially.

MARTIN: The Trump White House, though, has a completely different set of priorities. It has a different worldview. Why is it unreasonable for the U.S. to request a renegotiation of the deal?

TOCCI: Well, certainly the United States has a different view. This administration has different priorities. But I think the very fact that Donald Trump decided to withdraw the attack - the missile attack on Iran highlights the fact that the president himself has no interest in an escalation. So obviously there's no love lost on Iran. Mind you, there's no love lost in Iran in Europe either.

The point is, how do we make a region, which is already extremely insecure, extremely conflict-ridden and, really, ready to blow up - how do we avoid spilling further fuel into that fire? And it seems to me that this is not a president that is particularly keen on engaging in wars anywhere, really, and particularly not in the Middle East.

MARTIN: Do you think the nuclear deal is dead at this point?

TOCCI: Absolutely not. I think that it's certainly on a lifeline. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action essentially had a social contract underpinning it. On the one hand, there was the containment of the Iranian nuclear program. And on the other hand, there was the commitment of the E3/EU plus 3 to revoke their nuclear-related sanctions.

Now, obviously, in the long term, one could argue that if there's one side of the bargain that is not living up to its commitment - meaning the withdraw of the sanctions - then it's unreasonable to expect the other side - meaning Iran - to live up to its own commitments. So I think that there's - you know, certainly it is a deal that is very much at stake here.

But if one tries to put oneself in Iranian shoes, which I think is what we all should be doing to try and understand what their possible reactions might be, I don't really see why they would have an incentive today to significantly violate the agreement. I mean, we've seen and we know the declarations that they've made concerning the fact that they don't want to live up to the limited stockpiles that the - of low-enriched uranium that the nuclear agreement provided. But essentially, they're not really talking about massive breaches - I don't know, you know, increasing enrichment up to 20% or anything of the like.

So the point is, can we do something sufficient to keep those incentives of the Iranians to prevent any further material breach of the Iran nuclear deal?

MARTIN: Nathalie Tocci is a special adviser to the EU policy chief.

Thank you so much for your time this morning. We appreciate it.

TOCCI: Thank you.

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