Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, a foreign policy advisor to Iran’s Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani, has cautioned against counting on European powers in Iran’s nuclear standoff with the United States. In an interview with Fars News Agency, an outlet affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.), he said there is some convergence of interests between European countries and the United States and they would be willing to counter Iran’s regional ambitions, particularly to protect Israel. However, he urged that Tehran should cultivate close ties with European countries and try to drive a wedge between Europe and America. “Although the Europeans condemn Trump’s actions and we should use all our diplomatic efforts to ensure the gulf between America and Europe over Iran’s nuclear issue and other Iran-related issues remain in place, we should not be naïve and reckon that Europe will easily side with us and distance itself from America.”

Comment: As the Trump administration is ratcheting up economic sanctions on Iran and is threating to abandon the Iran nuclear deal, an intense debate is taking place inside Iran about whether the Islamic Republic can count on European powers as reliable partners against Washington’s “unilateralism.” While the Rouhani government and reformists prefer to work closely with Europeans to “isolate” America and minimize the impact of new U.S. sanctions, hardliners see it as a mistake and believe that European countries will ultimately side with Washington not Tehran.

Earlier this month, for example, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, a member of Iran’s Assembly of Experts and aide to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, called on the Rouhani government “not to rely on European support because if Europe has to choose between Iran and America, it will choose America.” Javan Online, an I.R.G.C. mouthpiece, wrote recently that Zarif’s idea to work with Europe to isolate America is unrealistic. It said the Rouhani team was similarly optimistic about negotiating with the United States, but all Iran got was more sanctions and more military threats. Javan also pointed to the latest proposal by France that the nuclear deal could be supplemented with “consultations” on loopholes within the accord, including the post-2025 period and Iran’s missile program. It argued that such talks show that Europe will still be keen to work with America against Iran in the future.

In contrast, officials within the Rouhani government and pro-Rouhani media outlets count on European support to prevent U.S. from walking away from the deal. The Rouhani government has waged a diplomatic offensive to gain European support to pressure Washington to remain committed to the nuclear deal. Iran daily, a government-run outlet that reflects the policies of the Rouhani team, wrote that European countries, particularly the business community, support the nuclear deal and close relations with the Islamic Republic. The paper referred to a recent Iranian investment conference in Switzerland, in which Helga Schmid, secretary general of the E.U.’s foreign policy affairs, spoke in support of the nuclear accord to a large gathering of European business representatives.  

When French President Emmanuel Macron won the elections in France, President Hassan Rouhani congratulated him and urged the new government in Paris to play a more active role in the implementation of the nuclear agreement. Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also used their last month’s U.N. General Assembly trip to garner the Europeans’ support for the nuclear agreement.