May 8, 2018

Pompeo signaled Iran deal withdrawal to European colleagues

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told his colleagues from the E3 — France, Germany and the United Kingdom — on Friday that President Trump has rejected the understandings that were drafted with American negotiators over the last four months regarding a possible fix of the Iran nuclear deal.

Why it matters: Pompeo's message in a conference call on Friday was a de-facto U.S. announcement that it was walking away from negotiations with the Europeans over the Iran deal.

The details: On Friday, Pompeo organized a conference call with his three European counterparts. Sources who were briefed on the call told me Pompeo thanked the E3 for the efforts they had made since January to come up with a formula that will convince Trump not to pull out of the nuclear deal — but made it clear the President wants to take a different direction.

  • Pompeo told the European foreign ministers he had a meeting with President Trump a day earlier to brief him on the draft understandings reached between American, French, German and British negotiators.
  • Pompeo briefed Trump on the main stumbling block left surrounding the deal — the so-called "sunset clause," which starts lifting limitations from the Iran nuclear program after 10 years from the day it came into force.
  • According to the sources, Pompeo told his European counterparts that — after he showed the document to Trump — the president told him it would not change his thinking about the nuclear deal. He then told the E3 foreign ministers to prepare themselves for an announcement by Trump within the coming days.
  • Pompeo also said that it might be possible to return to the negotiating table at a later stage after Trump's announcement.
  • A senior Trump administration official: "The reality is that the E3 could not agree to end the sunset clauses. That provision is critical to fixing the flawed deal." They added, "I don’t want to get ahead of the president, but I can say that the administration’s position on the importance of fixing sunset clauses of the Iran deal is well known."
  • The State Department did not respond to a request for comment regarding the details of the call.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who was already slated to travel to Washington, asked Pompeo during the call to make one more effort to reach an understanding.

  • That effort apparently took place, but also turned out to be futile.
  • Another conference call took place between negotiators from the U.S. and the E3 a short time later, but it ended after a few minutes after it was clear the U.S. wasn't going to shift its position.

From the other side: Over the last two weeks, European negotiators felt the American team, led by State Department policy planning chief Brian Hook, was unwilling to try to make progress, perhaps due to an assessment that Trump didn’t really want a deal with the E3.

  • France, Germany and the U.K. felt the parties were close to a deal but that the U.S. walked out 300 feet before the finish line.

What's next: Senior officials from the EU, France, Germany and the U.K. will meet today in Brussels to prepare for Trump's announcement — both politically and economically. After Trump's statement, the European powers want to issue a joint statement which will make it clear they are staying in the Iran deal in an attempt to prevent its collapse.  

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