The schism between the United States and Europe over Iran bears the hallmarks of their friction over Iraq prior to the 2003 US-led invasion. Their current dispute is mainly over means not ends, but could have major implications for transatlantic relations and the Middle East.
Both the US and the EU would like to see the Ayatollahs’ Iran contained and constrained, preferably under new leadership – just as they wanted to see Saddam Hussein’s Iraq before 2003 – but as in the past, they disagree on how to go about it. To put it simply, it is a dispute over “carrots or sticks” – or whether to bring Iran to its senses or bring it to its knees.
The Europeans want to compel the Islamic Republic to change its behaviour using trade and investments in accordance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), while the US wants to coerce it into a much more debilitating deal through tough sanctions and the threat of force.
But to paraphrase Mohamed ElBaradei, the former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran is no “donkey” to be managed with carrots and sticks. It is a defiant regional power that demands a US u-turn on sanctions, an apology, and respect.
As the crisis deepens, the disagreements between the US and Europe are also worsening in tone and substance.