The historical connections between Berlin and Tehran make Germany a strong supporter of the nuclear deal. Now Germany is set to help lead the response of the other signatories after Trump’s decision to pull the US out.
There’s hardly an issue on which there is more consensus in German politics than the Iran nuclear deal. From the far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) to the Left Party, no one in the country shares the US president’s skepticism about the 2015 agreement — at least not to the point of scrapping it.
Germany and Iran have traditionally enjoyed close relations, and Germans have often sought to mediate in conflicts between Tehran, its neighbors, and the rest of the world. It was no accident that while serving as German foreign minister, current President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was one of the main architects of the 2015 agreement under which Iran promised not to develop nuclear weapons in return for relaxation of sanctions by the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany.
It was also unsurprising that on the margins of a meeting with his French colleague on Monday current German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas promised that Europeans would continue to honor the agreement regardless of whether US President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the deal — something he ultimately opted to do a day later. Berlin also hosted a number of unsuccessful meetings in recent months aimed at brokering a compromise with the US.
The Trump White House suspects Iran of maintaining a clandestine program to develop nuclear weapons and is insisting that inspectors be admitted to Iranian military facilities — something Tehran has categorically ruled out. Americans are not included in the inspection teams because the US and Iran don’t have diplomatic relations.
Driving Iran ‘into a corner’
Hours before Trump announced his decision on Tuesday, representatives of Germany’s governing grand coalition reiterated the position laid out by Maas.
The parliamentary leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU party, Volker Kauder, warned that scrapping the deal could lead to a dangerous isolation of Iran.
“It would only worsen the situation in the Middle East,” Kauder told reporters. “Iran should not be driven into a corner.”
“I continue to think that it’s correct to have this agreement,” agreed his colleague Alexander Dobrindt of the CSU, the Bavarian sister party to the CDU.
“The situation is more difficult than ever,” said Social Democratic Chairwoman and Parliamentary Leader Andrea Nahles. “There are flashpoints everywhere.”
No one in Germany believes that the agreement is perfect, but the consensus is that the deal is better than nothing, as the country’s most prominent Iranian-German politician underlines.
Driving Germany into Chinese and Russian arms
Green party member of the Bundestag Omid Nouripour was born in Tehran. He stressed the importance of the deal for Germany’s domestic security.
“No deal means no inspections, and no inspections is the best way for Iran to get the bomb on a fast track,” Nouripour told Deutsche Welle. “And Iran getting the bomb means a nuclearization of a neighbor region of Europe.”
Nouripour was one of 500 parliamentarians from France, Germany and the UK who wrote to Trump last month urging him not to withdraw the US from the agreement. He said he and his colleagues will turn to the US Congress and warned of a split between the US and Europe.
“Congress could prevent the Americans from leaving the deal,” Nouripour said. “But if they do not stay in the deal, it’s our job as Europeans and signatories to try everything we can to keep the deal, together with the Chinese and the Russians. It’s one of the bad side-effects of what Trump is doing: Pushing us into the arms of the Chinese and the Russians.”
Some signatories more equal than others
So does it make any sense for the rest of the signatories, including Germany, to stick by the agreement now that Trump has said the US will pull out?
“At the end of the day it’s an international agreement involving not just the US and Iran, but the Europeans — meaning the UK, France and Germany — as well as Russia and China,” Middle East expert Markus Kaim of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs told DW. “So the other parts will remain intact. The other players have agreed comply with [the terms of the agreement].”
On the other hand, it’s clear to everyone in Germany that the US enjoys a special status in the deal.
“The overarching topic was to find some sort of reconciliation between the US and Iran,” Kaim said. “If the United States is pulling out of the agreement, I think the Iranian regime will not comply any longer with the existing regulations.”