With friends like these . . . EU chief rips into Trump

European Union chief Donald Tusk hit out at US President Donald Trump yesterday, accusing Washington of capricious assertiveness in abandoning the Iran nuclear deal and imposing trade tariffs on Europe.

“Looking at the latest decisions of President Trump, someone could even think with friends like that who needs enemies,” Tusk said in the Bulgarian capital Sofia before EU leaders met to discuss a united front on Trump.

He said this as Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to host German Chancellor Angela Merkel tomorrow to discuss the explosive global issues of Iran, Syria and Ukraine amid a deepening US-European crisis of confidence.

This year’s first face-to-face talks between the veteran leaders comes as European powers are scrambling to preserve the Iran deal which Trump abandoned last week.

For Merkel, the main objective in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi will be to seek pragmatic dialogue with Putin, despite their yawning political differences, in the quest to preserve the landmark 2015 agreement.

Time is running out to save the accord, under which Iran pledged not to build a nuclear bomb in return for relief from sanctions.

Iran yesterday called Washington’s new sanctions an attempt to derail efforts by its remaining signatories to save the deal.

The US Treasury imposed sanctions on Iran’s central bank governor, three other individuals and an Iraq-based bank on Tuesday, a week after Trump abandoned the deal.

Iran labels the sanctions illegal and has warned that if talks to rescue the accord fail, it would ramp up its nuclear programme to a level more advanced than before.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, on a whirlwind global diplomatic tour, welcomed as a good start talks with his French, British and German counterparts in Brussels on Tuesday, but insisted on continued economic benefits for Iran.
Putin – a key player as an ally of Iran, with which it militarily backs President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s bloody conflict – is also due to meet French President Emmanuel Macron late this month.

After years of a deepening East-West rift sometimes labelled a new Cold War, Merkel recently repeated her warning that Europe could no longer rely on its traditional bedrock Nato ally the United States to protect it.

German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle commented: “A rapprochement between Germany and Russia could be an unexpected consequence of Trump’s decision to abandon the nuclear deal.”

Merkel’s challenge will be how to move forward without yielding to Moscow on a range of divisive issues – from Russia’s role in Syria to Iran’s ballistic missile programme to sanctions imposed against Russia over the Ukraine conflict.

Western powers have also accused Moscow of a poison attack on Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in Britain and of destabilising cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns, claims which Russia denies.

Also looming over the talks is the festering conflict between Ukraine’s government and pro-Russian rebels which has seen barely a day without armed clashes since the 2015 Minsk peace accords brokered by Berlin and Paris.

This week starkly recalled Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimea when Putin, re-elected for a fourth Kremlin term in March, personally drove a truck over a new 19km bridge linking the peninsula with the Russian mainland.

Moscow has said Putin will urge a four-way meeting with Merkel, Macron and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to revive talks on a possible UN peacekeeping mission on the eastern Ukraine battlefront.

Russian deputy foreign minister Grigory Karasin, tempering expectations, said: “It’s hard to predict.”

Despite all the problems, Germany and Russia see eye to eye on one issue that troubles other EU nations and has sparked angry protests from Trump – the construction of a new Baltic Sea pipeline to export Russian gas to the biggest EU economy. – AFP, Reuters