Where Does the Transatlantic Relationship Go from Here? | Wilson Center
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Where Does the Transatlantic Relationship Go from Here?

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A Wilson @50 Event

The U.S. decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal has brought transatlantic relations to their lowest point since the Iraq War. Now, differences over Iran may exert a greater toll on relations if Washington imposes sanctions on European countries which trade with the Islamic Republic. Meanwhile, the European Union faces an increasingly assertive Russia and uncertainty over Brexit.

How can the U.S. and the EU manage these tensions – and are there opportunities for cooperation?


Selected Quotes


Jane Harman

“We fear that withdrawing from the JCPOA risks isolating the U.S. and making it harder for us to work with our allies on other challenges… Our allies are disappointed by the U.S. decision on the Paris Climate Accord and the abandonment of multilateral trade agreements. Our allies, especially those in Europe, helped construct the world order after World War II, and we will pay a huge price if they move to align elsewhere.”

“One of the unusual things, I thought, was the statement by our president before he backed out of the deal – that [Iran] was complying with the letter, but not the spirit, of the deal. 'The letter of the deal' is the deal, and the deal was only focused on nuclear weapons.”

Baroness Catherine Ashton

“My role in the whole of the negotiations was kind of coordination and moving the negotiations forward. This was an international agreement endorsed and supported through the UN Security Council, and its uniqueness was in part that it brought Russia and China, the U.S. and Europe together to find a solution to a problem. And I don’t think there’s ever been a discussion of that kind, or a negotiation of that kind, so it has something inherently fascinating, interesting, and really important about it.”  

“The question for those who remain… is whether they feel able to continue with an agreement which loses an incredibly important and vital partner, the United States of America, and whether, in fact, the message that it sends about international agreements requires them, in a sense, to try and find ways to continue with it. But bear in mind that the elements of the agreement that matter hugely in Iran, of course, are the economic ones. Economic agreements require business to engage, and business will make business decisions based on what it believes is in its own best interest.”

“In Hungary and Poland, I think the issue for all of us is to make sure that democracy works – to make sure that the values of the European Union holds dear and... are recognized to be the requirement, in a sense, of being part of the Union. And though that is very difficult to police in any real sense, to kind of make it clear and make it known, and be able to collaboratively work together to try and persuade nations or persuade governments or persuade individuals that move away from it.”  

“Democracy, where people make informed choices, is the best thing we've got. In the end, that will be what will be sufficient, I believe, to make sure that Europe goes forward.” 

Ambassador David O'Sullivan

“I think the European position is very clear. It was decided and confirmed by the heads of state and government when they met in Sofia at the Western Balkans Summit, which is that as long as Iran continues to respect its side of the deal, the Europeans will do everything in their power to keep this deal alive. As Cathy says, however, I think the real question will be whether, from an Iranian perspective, if the deal is completely emptied of any economic benefits, then clearly there will be forces in Iran who would start to say, ‘Why are we doing this?’”

“We are not happy with the prospect of tariffs on steel and aluminum because we feel we face a common problem, which is overcapacity caused by over-investment in China. We are more than willing to work with the [U.S.] administration. Ironically, today in Paris, Cecilia Malmström, our trade negotiator, has met with Secretary Ross to discuss this issue; but [she] is also in a meeting with Ambassador Lighthizer and their Japanese counterpart on a trilateral – EU, U.S., Japan –approach to China on overcapacity. So, there is a little bit of schizophrenia, frankly, in some of this.”

“Brexit is the outlier because, I think, in the case of the U.K... there was always a deep hesitation about what was the nature of the European project, and that, I think, set the U.K. somewhat apart. We now have the unfortunate decision to leave, which we deeply regret; it’s a loss for us, certainly. But I think the issue of Brexit, unfortunately, has turned into more of a problem for the U.K. itself than for the 27 who, I think, take a fairly sanguine view.”