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Views From The U.K. And Germany Regarding Iran


While Iran and the U.S. have traded attacks and threats, European allies have been stuck in the middle. They've been trying to show their support for the U.S. without further alienating Iran and trying to cling to what's left of the international deal that limited Iran's nuclear capability. Today, President Trump told them to give up that hope.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The time has come for the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia and China to recognize this reality. They must now break away from the remnants of the Iran deal, or JCPOA. And we must all work together toward making a deal with Iran that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place.

CORNISH: Let's hear how two European countries are grappling with this. First, we have NPR's Frank Langfitt in London.

Welcome back, Frank.


CORNISH: And we have NPR's Rob Schmitz. He's in Berlin.

Welcome back, Rob.


CORNISH: So, guys, I want to start with President Trump's statement today. He said, quote, "Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned." And he went on to say, and a very good thing for the world. How is that likely to be received in Europe? I want to start with you, Rob.

SCHMITZ: Here in Germany, that's exactly what Germany wants. The official reaction of Germany was we want this to de-escalate, and we will play a part in doing so. But what's interesting is that between that, you had also kind of a German media reaction, which I think represents a lot of the public reaction to what's going on, which was the assassination of Soleimani was generally an act of war. And there was a lot of anger after that event.

CORNISH: And, Frank, for you, what are you hearing in the U.K.?

LANGFITT: Well, I think very much the same thing that Rob's talking about. It's very interesting. Prime Minister Johnson was talking earlier today. And while he was supportive of President Trump, he also called for de-escalation, very much the same kind of concerns. This is not the sort of thing that anybody in Europe wants to see.

CORNISH: Both the U.K. and Germany joined President Obama, of course, in negotiating that 2015 Iran nuclear deal. So are they or any of the other signatories open to dumping it altogether or coming up with something more acceptable to President Trump? Who wants to go first?

SCHMITZ: I can answer that. I would say no. I think the Europeans spent months working on an add-on deal to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in order to please Trump, only to see him walk away from it in the end. And now President Trump says everyone should forget the original deal and focus on a new deal he wants to make with Iran. But he's offered really no details of what that would be. The folks I'm talking to here in Berlin say they can no longer trust President Trump when he says things like this. They also point out the European signatories to the 2015 deal will continue to engage with Iran with their eyes to 2020, when a potential successor to Trump could possibly re-engage the U.S. with Iran on this issue.

CORNISH: You know, President Trump has also said he'd asked NATO to become much more involved in the Middle East. How's that likely to go down with the other NATO members?

LANGFITT: Well, Audie, I'm sure the first thing they have is - are wondering is, what does he have in mind? You know, President Trump didn't say. He gave no details. NATO has 500 troops in Iraq, and it had to actually pull some of them out temporarily who were training Iraqi soldiers to fight ISIS because of the strike last week on Soleimani.

Also important to remember that Trump has often criticized NATO countries as deadbeats. Now he says he wants them to play a bigger role in the Middle East, where NATO's never really had a clear strategy. So I would imagine there's quite a bit of head-scratching and skepticism in NATO headquarters in Brussels right now.

CORNISH: But what's the sense about how, say, Boris Johnson would actually feel about that?

LANGFITT: What's interesting about Boris Johnson is that he's been toeing this very careful line. He was very supportive today, as I mentioned earlier. He said that Soleimani would - had been behind the killing of British soldiers, also encouraging calm on both sides. He supports the Iran nuclear deal, but he also needs a post-Brexit trade deal from Trump. He's in a bit of a bind here. I was talking to Ian Bond. He's a former British diplomat who spent many years in Washington. And he says that Johnson does know how to handle the relationship with Trump. And he says Johnson needs to handle the relationship with Trump very carefully.

IAN BOND: I have noticed that his loyalty to his friends is quite conditional, and that you can go from being a great guy to I hardly knew the man in the space of, you know, 48 hours if you get on the wrong side of the president. Now, I'm sure Boris Johnson would not want to be put in that position.

CORNISH: What are people in Germany and the U.K. saying as they watch this all unfold?

SCHMITZ: The main concern here among Germans is more instability in the region. Whenever tensions flare in the Middle East, the European Union has had to deal with the collateral damage. In 2015, that meant that Chancellor Merkel making a very difficult decision to take in nearly a million war refugees. And that was a catalyst for Islamic extremist attacks in Germany, and on the other side, a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment that has now led to white nationalist extremist attacks in this country.

LANGFITT: And, you know, Audie, President Trump is not popular here in the United Kingdom, and people view him with great skepticism. And there's a history here of the British people feeling like their soldiers have been drawn into wars, bad wars in the Middle East before. Of course, 2003, the Iraq War, Tony Blair, the prime minister at the time, went full-in with George W. Bush. And his reputation has never recovered from that.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt speaking to us from London and Rob Schmitz in Berlin.

Thank you both.

SCHMITZ: Thank you.

LANGFITT: You're very welcome, Audie.

(SOUNDBITE OF BAIO SONG, "SISTER OF PEARL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.
Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
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