Donald Trump and his advisers have a consistent record of confronting and threatening Iran, most prominently by withdrawing from the nuclear deal. But on Tuesday, Trump expanded the threats against Iran to all those who do business with the country, declaring on Twitter they “will NOT be doing business with the United States.”
If taken literally, this would mean a new front in America’s economic battle with the Europeans, who have remained in the nuclear agreement—not to mention many other countries around the world determined to do business in Iran.
The Iran sanctions have officially been cast. These are the most biting sanctions ever imposed, and in November they ratchet up to yet another level. Anyone doing business with Iran will NOT be doing business with the United States. I am asking for WORLD PEACE, nothing less!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 7, 2018
There’s already discord among the United States and the other parties to the accord—China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the European Union—over a range of issues beyond the Iran deal. These include trade and tariffs (China and the EU), defense spending (EU members of NATO), climate change (China, Russia, and the EU states), and sanctions (Russia). While the Trump administration might view these issues as distinct from the Iran nuclear issue, these countries and their publics will almost certainly see them as part of a larger confrontation with the United States over how Trump views the world. It’s also not clear the U.S. can get other countries—including its allies—to do its bidding. U.S. companies and the largest foreign firms will leave Iran under the threat of sanctions, but smaller firms and those with limited U.S. exposure could continue to seek opportunities in the Islamic Republic, ensuring the U.S. sanctions won’t have the intended impact, and certainly won’t be “the most biting sanctions ever imposed.”
“I think that the easiest way for them to circumvent the sanctions comes from the way in which we’re implementing them, which is by dividing our own partnership,” said Richard Nephew, the former deputy coordinator for sanctions policy at the U.S. State Department who was on the U.S. team that negotiated the Iran deal, in a conference call. “The fact that we are not working with Europe but rather confronting Europe means that we won’t have an EU-wide system of sanctions that we’re working with them. Instead it’s going to be all about who has benefit in the United States and who doesn’t, who has economic interests in the United States and who doesn’t. And that’s a bad way to have sanctions work, especially with our closest partners. And I think it’s going to just breed loopholes, even amongst some of our closest allies.”