Any further increases in Iran’s uranium enrichment would present Johnson and his European counterparts, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, with a serious diplomatic problem. Pressure would inevitably mount from the U.S. and Israel, which is implacably opposed to Tehran’s nuclear program, for additional measures to be taken against Iran to stop it from acquiring weapons-grade material.
The nightmare scenario for the so-called E3 is to be forced to acquiesce to U.S. strategy, risking a military confrontation with Iran, because the regime in Tehran has left them no choice but to withdraw from the agreement. British officials said they were desperately working to salvage the deal, with one saying that even triggering a dispute mechanism built into the agreement in the event of further Iranian rule-breaking would lead to the deal’s rapid unwinding.
Given Johnson’s razor-thin majority in the House of Commons, the parliamentary recess beginning today gives him much-needed breathing space, free from the inevitable parliamentary battles over Brexit that may soon rob him, like his predecessor, of the ability to govern.
Read: Boris Johnson meets his destiny
It also gives him a small window of time to reassess Britain’s policy on Iran and, should he choose, to continue working with France and Germany to persuade the Iranians not to go beyond the point of no return by drastically exceeding the agreed-upon uranium enrichment levels. However, it gives the U.S. a chance to exert pressure on him as well. How will he balance these myriad factors?
“The truth about foreign policy is, there’s no distinction between home and away,” Tom Tugendhat, a Conservative member of Parliament and the chair of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, told me. “How we act with our allies has a direct impact on how our enemies and rivals act against us.”
Until now, the two issues—that of Brexit, and efforts to save the Iran nuclear deal—have been almost entirely distinct. While Johnson has spoken of the great prize of a rapid-fire U.S. trade deal, he has held the U.K. line opposing the Trump administration’s strategy on Iran, maintaining the European alliance hoping to keep the deal intact despite the uptick in Iranian hostility. However, some of the officials I spoke with said fears have been raised that as prime minister, facing an economic crisis caused by his hard-line Brexit policy, Johnson may prove more susceptible to U.S. leverage to break away from France and Germany to secure concessions on trade.
“Is there a possibility the U.S. could try to apply that pressure on the U.K.?” one senior British official, who asked not to be identified, told me. “Absolutely, of course there is. But whether or not the U.K. would be susceptible to that … I would find it unlikely; I would imagine the answer would be, ‘No, sod off.’” Still, another senior official from an EU member state told me that the threat of, in essence, losing Britain to the U.S. was causing serious concern in Europe. Charles Grant, who heads the Centre for European Reform, a London-based think tank, told me that based on his own conversations with European officials, this concern was acutely felt in Germany.