When Donald Trump reached what for him was a forgone conclusion and withdrew the United States from the JCPOA (aka Iran nuclear deal), it was equally a foregone conclusion that China and Russia would both be willing to continue participation in a would-be post-US JCPOA and if not, China and Russia would also inevitably continue to enhance positive trading relations with Iran. The big question mark was and remains the actual (rather than theoretical) position of Europe in a post-US JCPOA.
While EU officials and heads of government from Germany, France and Britain remain publicly adamant that they intend to work with Iranian President Rouhani to try and preserve the deal without US participation, the EU could find itself on the receiving end of US sanctions if they continue to pursue a JCPOA-1 format.
The US has already established a precedent for sanctioning third party countries who decide to conduct commerce with a nation that has been unilaterally sanctioned by Washington. The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) signed by Donald Trump in 2017 authorises the US to sanction any country trading with the targets of CAATSA – Russia, Iran and the DPRK. The third party clauses to CAATSA recently became the focus of global attention when India decided to cancel weapons purchases from their old Cold War partner Russia under the threat of being sanctioned by their new partner, the United States. This happened in spite of US Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis specifically mentioning that contemporary US partners India and Vietnam would logically still need to purchase weapons upgrades from Russia in order to maintain their vast stockpiles of Soviet and some more recently purchased Russian weapons. Because of this Mattis suggested that US friendly countries like India and Vietnam should be exempt from CAATSA sanctions even if they continue to purchase weapons from Russia.
While Mattis did not mention Turkey by name, the logical conclusion of his statement would apply to Turkey even though unlike Vietnam and India which were Cold War partners of the USSR that are now pivoting closer to the US, Turkey is a long time NATO member pivoting more towards eastern partnerships which includes Turkey’s incredibly important energy, security, commercial and cultural exchange partner, Russia.
The combination of sustained Turkophobic campaigns from US pressure groups combined with the US deep state’s growing infatuation with PKK aligned terrorist groups in Syria, led a group of US Senators representing both major US political parties to propose freezing US deliveries of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey.
Not only has the bid of the anti-Turkish senators failed, but CAATSA has now been de-facto ignored when it comes to Turkey in spite of months of threats. Turkey is on the verge of taking delivery of Russian made S-400 missile defence systems and its now also about to receive American made F-35s.
By taking a line that refused to buckle in the face of the threat of US sanctions, Turkey has proved that from a position of strength and multipolarity, it is possible to maintain a strong relationship with Russia, look out for one’s own sovereign interests and continue to buy ultra-modern military aircraft from the US even in an age where America is becoming ever more trigger happy in respect of sanctions.
In an age where US geopolitical ambitions are is increasingly thwarted by the emergence of a strong multipolar world, Turkey got the US to do what it rarely does: stand down in the face of firm opposition to what amounts to blackmail.
Against this backdrop, no one should dismiss Turkey’s recently issued statement, staying that Ankara remains on excellent terms with Iran in spite of some disagreements regarding the Syria conflict and that furthermore, Turkey intends to bolster its trade with Iran in line with the framework of the JCPOA as detailed in UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which effectively enshrines the terms of the JCPOA into international law. Incidentally, as the UN and the International Atomic Energy Agency both attest that Iran remains in full compliance with the JCPOA, the US now stands accused of violating UNSC Resolution 2231 due to its unilateral withdrawal from the agreement.
In this sense, Turkey and the EU are on the same page regarding Iran, but when it comes to following rhetoric with action, it is a safe bet to assume that Turkey will likely follow through on its plans to retain and even intensify its trading relationship with Iran more so than Europe.
While Turkey’s economy continues to grow, the EU as a whole is a larger economic space in every sense. Yet in spite of this, the EU has consistently failed to assert occasional disagreements with its US ally, beyond the realm of rhetoric.
With the US lumping in Europe’s desire to preserve the JCPOA with the brewing trade war between Washington and Brussels, I recently wrote that it would behove the EU to at long last open its markets to China as a means of creating both a win-win agreement with Beijing and also to gain leverage against an otherwise domineering United States.
In this sense, Turkey is already several steps ahead of Europe. Turkey retains good and growing relations with Russia and its Eurasian Economic Union, China, Pakistan, Iran, the Turkic world of Central Asia and the Caucasus Mountains, Sudan and increasingly in parts of north east and south east Asia. All the while, in spite of disputes over European and American fanatical support for radical Kurdish terrorism, Turkey remains open to dealing with the US and EU on a case by case basis on issues ranging from trade to tourism and everything in-between.
Because of this, Turkey has a far better ability to leverage the US against Washington’s would-be sanctions measures than the EU because Turkey’s geopolitical and geo-economic portfolio is deeper, wider and more diverse than that of the EU, in spite of the EU’s size.
In this sense, while Angela Merkel has vowed to resist any would-be sanctions from a US to which she is increasingly estranged vis-a-vis the warm Obama years, Turkey under President Erdogan is already several steps ahead of Europe when it comes to looking both west and east, all the while being respected and even feared by both.
Turkey has shown that by diversifying one’s geopolitical portfolio and refusing to capitulate to US threats, one can eventually get the US to act pragmatically rather than as a bullying hegamon. The US agreed to deliver the F-35s to Turkey in spite of pressure from powerful US based lobbies including Armenian, Greek and Jewish groups.
It remains to be seen if Angla Merkel and her colleagues can now pull off what President Erdogan just has.