On Wednesday, a day after Donald Trump announced that he is withdrawing the United States from an international nuclear agreement with Iran, Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, called his counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, in Tehran, and “reiterated France’s desire to continue implementing all aspects of the . . . agreement.” France’s foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, told a French radio network, “The deal is not dead. There is an American withdrawal from the deal, but the deal is still there.” In other European capitals, senior politicians and diplomats were uttering similar remarks. For the first time in living memory, America’s European allies have broken with Washington as one on a major security issue. Or so it seems.
In the seven decades since Hitler was defeated and the transatlantic alliance was formally constituted, there have been other serious breaches. In 1956, the Eisenhower Administration balked at supporting the Anglo-French military takeover of the Suez Canal. In 2003, France and Germany refused to join the U.S.-led “coalition of the willing” in the invasion of Iraq. But never had all of Europe stood united against a U.S. Administration and accused it of being an international scofflaw—until Trump.
The charge was effectively levelled in a joint statement issued on Tuesday by Macron, Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, and Theresa May, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The statement noted that the United Nations Security Council had unanimously approved the Iran deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (or J.C.P.O.A.), in 2015, and said that it “remains the binding international legal framework for the resolution of the dispute about the Iranian nuclear programme.” Translated from diplomatic speak, this amounted to an accusation that the United States, and not Iran, was the country violating international law.
The joint statement went on: “Our governments remain committed to ensuring the agreement is upheld, and will work with all the remaining parties to the deal to ensure this remains the case including through ensuring the continuing economic benefits to the Iranian people that are linked to the agreement.” This was a pledge to try to save the nuclear deal, despite Trump’s efforts to destroy it. The statement fell short of declaring Trump a know-nothing vandal intent on wrecking the international system. It didn’t need to: throughout most of Europe, that is taken as a given.
But how far are European leaders willing to go in standing up to