President Trump and his European counterparts square off at the United Nations this week on key policy issues dividing old allies: the fate of the Iran nuclear agreement and how to constrain the Islamic Republic’s regional ambitions.
The week of marathon diplomacy in New York will be the first time that heads of states of the U.S., European nations and Iran gather at the General Assembly since Mr. Trump quit the 2015 Iran nuclear accord in May and will put U.S.-European divisions on global display.
Mr. Trump and top officials plan to use the U.N. forum—including a speech by Mr. Trump on Tuesday to world leaders, a Security Council session he is chairing and a series of meetings—to denounce Iran, and mobilize international support for isolating the country through crippling sanctions. A key component of their complaint will be Iran’s meddling in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen and its continued financial and military support of militant groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas.
But the Europeans plan to counter the U.S. position that the nuclear agreement has failed and that new sanctions must be imposed. European countries have tried to help Iran navigate the sanctions, including on banking transactions, by creating economic incentives so Iran stays committed to the deal, though their ability to maintain economic ties with Tehran is limited and the continent’s companies are rapidly pulling out.
Iran, for its part, will attempt to widen the gap between the U.S. and Europe by portraying itself as abiding by its commitments while the U.S. disregards international accords.
British, French and German diplomats plan to meet Monday with counterparts from Iran and other parties to the accord—Russia and China—to try to persuade Tehran to stick with the agreement as U.S. sanctions on Iran’s oil exports take hold in November and foreign companies continue to depart.
Most Western businesses appear to be heeding Washington’s warnings it will punish those found violating its economywide sanctions campaign. The risk of losing access to the world’s largest economy and most important financial markets isn’t worth keeping ties to a country whose gross domestic product is dwarfed by the U.S. Companies such as
and German industrial firm Wintershall have either pulled out completely or said they are planning an exit.
Ahead of Nov. 4, when some of the strongest sanctions kick in, Iran crude imports have fallen over the last four months in many of Tehran’s biggest customers, analysts say.
The remaining parties to the 2015 accord are expected to issue a statement in support of the deal after the meeting.
The sharply differing views will put Washington and Europe on opposing courses on the world stage.
“Talking about Iran, talking about their proxies and the other things they are doing to destabilize the Middle East will certainly be a topic,” U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said Thursday in a preview of the administration’s priorities.
France and Britain acknowledge concerns over Iran’s assertive role in the region and its ballistic missile program, but diplomats said each plans to deliver a “strong speech” in defense of the deal during the meeting chaired by Mr. Trump.
Europeans will portray the agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, “as one of the backbones of avoiding Iran getting nuclear weapon,” said one Security Council diplomat. France’s President Emmanuel Macron plans to resurrect his proposal for “JCPOA Plus,” a plan that called for the U.S. to remain committed to the accord as world powers work out a parallel understanding on how to limit Iran’s missile program and press Tehran on its regional policies.
Iran and Europe point out that the deal was limited to the nuclear program and that U.N. monitors repeatedly have certified that Iran has been abiding by the terms of the pact.
The provisions of the nuclear deal the Europeans support are not nearly as stringent as what the Trump administration is now demanding: an end to all uranium enrichment by Iran.
And while the U.S. and the Europeans are close on how to deal with Iran’s missiles, the U.S. demands that sanctions be imposed unless Iran withdraws its forces from Syria, ends all support for militant groups and ends threats to Israel are tougher than the positions taken in European capitals on Tehran’s posture in the Middle East.
The meetings are likely to be colored by Saturday’s terrorist attack on a military parade in Iran’s southern city of Ahvaz, in which at least 25 people were killed and 60 injured.
Both Islamic State and a separatist Iranian Arab group claimed responsibility. Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and other top Iranian officials blamed regional foes and the U.S. for backing anti-Iranian groups.
On Sunday, before leaving for the U.N. meeting, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the U.S. doesn’t “want security in Iran, they want to foment chaos and they want to create the conditions needed for them to return to the country one day and become masters of the people similar to the past.”
The State Department issued a statement condemning “all acts of terrorism and the loss of any innocent lives” and said it stands with the Iranian people.
Brian Hook, the State Department special envoy on Iran, said earlier this month that the U.S. wants to negotiate a new and broader treaty with Iran that would cover its regional activities, missile tests and nuclear program. Iran rejected the offer as out of the question.
Mr. Trump has said that he is prepared to meet with Iran’s leaders on his demands. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News on Sunday that Mr. Trump was even willing to meet with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and any Iranian official in New York this week.
Mr. Khamenei has banned Iranian officials from direct negotiating or meetings with American counterparts, saying that the U.S. exit from the nuclear deal shows Iran can’t trust America.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Rouhani are scheduled to give dueling addresses to the General Assembly. An Iranian official said Mr. Rouhani has drafted several speeches and will choose the most appropriate response to Mr. Trump, who is due to speak first.
“The goal is to use this time to make Trump look bad and place Iran on Europe’s side. We have a lot of meetings planned with the Europeans,” an Iranian official in Tehran said. He said Iran was arriving with a large delegation that included officials and experts in economy, trade, oil, policy and media.
Also on Tuesday, Mr. Pompeo, White House national security adviser John Bolton and Mr. Hook will speak at a conference held by United Against a Nuclear Iran, a group that opposed the nuclear accord. The foreign ministers from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Iran’s regional rivals, are among the others scheduled to speak at the event.
Mr. Trump on Wednesday chairs the Security Council session on nonproliferation, which will address Iran as well as disarming North Korea and Syria of chemical weapons.
Initially, Ms. Haley said the session would focus on Iran. The White House later expanded the topic to a broader discussion. Under the provisional rules of the Security Council, Iranian officials would be invited to speak if the Council discussed a specific agenda, such as Iran.
Both Iran and the U.S. have avoided having direct contact during previous General Assembly gatherings.
— Vivian Salama and Ian Talley in Washington contributed to this article.