France and Germany Apply Diplomatic Pressure ahead of Trump’s Iran Deal Decision
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are meeting with President Trump this week to deliver a one-two diplomatic punch to persuade him to preserve U.S. participation in the Iran nuclear deal. Trump decertified the agreement last October, kicking the agreement to Congress for revisions. Congressional action stalled quickly, but since then U.S. diplomats have tried to work with their European partners to reach an agreement that could satisfy Trump. The United States’ negotiating partners, though, have expressed frustration with Trump’s impulse to unilaterally demand changes to a multilateral agreement. Trump has set May 12 as a deadline for progress, otherwise he has said the United States will withdraw and reimpose sanctions.
As the New York Times reports, those U.S.-European talks have made some progress on side agreements that could impose new constraints on Iran on threat of sanctions, including measures to impose new inspection requirements and restrict Iran’s ballistic missile program. Macron and Merkel are expected to try to convince Trump that the discussions have made enough headway to merit an extension. “Is this agreement perfect and this JCPOA a perfect thing for our relationship with Iran? No,” Macron told Fox News in an interview over the weekend. “But for nuclear, what do you have as a better option? I don’t see it. What is the what-if scenario or your plan B? I don’t have any Plan B for nuclear against Iran.”
Other P5+1 countries involved in the nuclear agreement are supporting France and Germany’s diplomatic mission. In a phone call between Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday, Putin reaffirmed his support for maintaining the Iran nuclear agreement. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is also in New York this week to make the case for the deal, including in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations.
If Trump withdraws, European leaders will face new challenges to salvage the agreement. As the Atlantic Council’s Barbara Slavin writes, “Macron and his colleagues in Germany and Britain may have an equally crucial task persuading Iran to remain within the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) if U.S. President Donald J. Trump fails to reissue waivers of U.S. sanctions on the next deadline, May 12.” Iran has been underwhelmed by the economic returns it expected from the Iran deal, and it’s unclear how large or small a push it would take for Tehran to walk away if it can blame it on Washington. Europe “needs to make some gestures to Iran, not simply agree to new sanctions connected to Iran’s missile program and regional interventions,” says Slavin. That could include laying out red lines on further U.S. actions that could scuttle the deal entirely. “The E-3 could declare in advance that a restoration of US secondary sanctions would be illegal—if Iran remains in the JCPOA—and threaten trade penalties if the United States tries to enforce resumed sanctions on oil imports from Iran,” she writes.
Erdogan Schedules Snap Election for June
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced last week that snap elections will be held on June 24th, more than a year ahead of schedule. Moving up the election also moves up the enactment of Turkey’s constitutional reforms, which Erdogan advocated and saw through a national referendum in April last year. The changes will diminish the power of the parliament, eliminate the office of prime minister, and further concentrate the president’s control of the Turkish government. Erdogan has been working toward this consolidation of power for years, and snap elections now put that moment on the horizon.
In a speech last Wednesday, Erdogan argued that snap elections would provide a political mandate to deal with pressing issues. “In a period where developments about Syria accelerate, and we have to make very important decisions on issues from macroeconomic equilibrium to big investments, it is a must to drop the election issue from the agenda as soon as possible,” he said. He also stressed the need for the new powers to come into effect, saying that, “For our country to make decisions about the future more strongly and apply them, passing to the new governmental system becomes urgent.”
The elections will be the first in Turkey since the attempted coup in July 2016. Since then, the country has been in a state of emergency—which was just renewed by the parliament last week for another three months. Tens of thousands of people have been arrested and more than 100,000 public-sector employees have been sacked on suspicion of association with the Gulenist Movement, which Erdogan’s government has accused of orchestrating the attempted coup. Much of the country’s independent media has also been shuttered or seized on the pretext of Gulenist ties. Opposition politicians additionally have been caught up in relation to Turkey’s ongoing conflict with Kurdish rebels in the country’s southeast. The People’s Democratic Party (HDP), a pro-Kurdish party that had a surprisingly strong showing in Turkey’s 2015 elections, has since been targeted with legislation allowing members of parliament to be stripped of their parliamentary immunity. Nine members of the HDP are now under arrest. “Erdogan has all odds stacked in his favor. From ... economic growth to the state of emergency which he has been using to crack down on opposition, to a near complete control of the media,” Soner Cagaptay, a fellow at the Washington Institute, told Reuters.
Erdogan’s popularity is presently polling at about 40 percent, the New York Times reports, but with his opponents fragmented and scrambling to organize in time for the snap elections, he is well within striking distance of the 51-percent majority necessary to cement his rule.
Saudi Strike Kills Houthi Government’s Acting President
The new U.N. envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, was making the rounds in New York and Washington, DC, just last week in an effort to jump start the stalled peace process for Yemen’s civil war. At the United Nations, he emphasized the risk of “game-changing events,” like missile launches and escalating strikes, that could close a window for negotiations. Experts like former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein were cautiously optimistic about what Griffiths could achieve without the diplomatic baggage acquired by his predecessor, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, over fruitless years of trying to secure a ceasefire.
But the conflict flared dramatically again over the weekend. Recent Saudi airstrikes have killed dozens more civilians: On Friday, a bomb struck a vehicle transporting 20 people in Taiz province, and then on Sunday, a pair of airstrikes hit yet another wedding, this time in Hajja, killing at least 22 more. Weddings and funerals have been alarmingly frequent targets of the Saudi air campaign over the past three years; as AFP notes in its report, more than 300 people have been killed in strikes targeting civilian gatherings.
Houthi officials also confirmed yesterday that Saleh al-Sammad, the Houthi government’s acting president and head of the rebel group’s Supreme Political Council, was killed in a Saudi strike in Hodeida province last Thursday. Houthi officials promised retaliation, and in recent days have launched a salvo of missiles toward an oil facility in Saudi Arabia’s Jazan province. Both missiles fell short and no injuries were reported. The failed Houthi missile attack—the second to target Saudi oil facilities this month—moved oil markets and dashed the small chance of diplomatic progress in play last week.