The Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign against Iran creates an almost existential dilemma for European leaders. Should they redouble efforts to engage with Iran to protect the value of multilateral diplomacy and preserve as much of the 2015 nuclear deal as possible? Or, should they prioritize their relationship with the United States and reimpose sanctions in hopes that Iran will agree to even stricter limits, not only on its nuclear program, but also on its ballistic missile development and regional activities?
The current European strategy seeks to keep Iran in the nuclear deal without angering the United States using the nuclear deal’s dispute resolution process. Surveys of Iranian public opinion conducted by the University of Maryland suggest that this is likely to backfire. Instead, European political leaders should redouble their efforts to deliver the economic benefits that Iranians expected when they signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), even at the risk of upsetting the United States. Bold European leadership offers the best hope of sustaining nuclear restraint by Iran and nonproliferation diplomacy writ large.