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Editorial: Calling Europe: Help the U.S. bring Iran back to the table for a stronger nuclear deal

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It's been a year since President Donald Trump made good on a campaign pledge to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. The administration's strategy: Turn the screws on Tehran with sanctions to compel Iranian leaders to work on a broader agreement that also tackles Iran's pursuit of ballistic missiles and support of terrorism.

Since then, Europe has tried to keep the old deal alive, crafting workarounds to get past U.S. economic sanctions imposed on Iranian oil. That bid largely failed.

Now Tehran says it has exhausted its patience with the Europeans.

Iran has given European leaders 60 days to resume commitments laid out in the original nuclear pact, or Iran will stop adhering to the deal's call for an end to uranium enrichment.

That's not all that's happening. Tehran is suspected of being behind an attack on oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates over the weekend, As of Tuesday, there was no proof of Iranian responsibility for the ship attacks, nor were there reports of casualties.Intelligence reports also suggest Iran has been building up proxy forces ahead a possible attack on American forces in the Middle East.

In response, the Pentagon has drawn up contingency plans to send as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East if Iran ever launched an attack on U.S. forces or sped up efforts to develop nuclear weapons, The New York Times reported. Trump denied the report, but said if he were to deploy troops, he'd send "a hell of a lot more troops than that."

Our translation: Neither a leaked Pentagon deployment strategy nor some presidential tough talk means the United States anticipates a military confrontation. What it does mean is the U.S. considers Iran to be untrustworthy, which is why the 2015 nuclear deal is insufficient.

Wadding up that old deal marked the first step toward a better one. Now it's up to the Europeans to get on board as U.S. partners with Iran Deal 2.0.

An important indicator, one we hope the Europeans noticed, emerged from Iran last weekend when President Hassan Rouhani acknowledged the economic pain that American sanctions have inflicted. Rouhani likened it to the misery Iran felt during its war with Iraq in the 1980s. Good to know, President Rouhani. Thanks for sharing. "We are in a difficult situation today, but at the same time, I am not disappointed," Rouhani said. "I believe that we can overcome these conditions, provided we are together and join hands."

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Iranian oil exports have dropped from 2.5 million barrels a day to below a million barrels. As a result, Iran's economy has taken a $10 billion hit.

In recent weeks, the Trump administration has doubled down on pressuring Tehran, declaring Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization and slapping sanctions on the country's copper, steel, aluminum and iron industries.

Getting the Iranians back to the table for talks is a goal that should be shared by the U.K., France and Germany -- the main European guarantors of the 2015 nuclear deal.

The U.S. isn't cowed by Tehran's saber rattling, and neither should Europe. Rouhani and Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, know their country's economy has been waylaid by the sanctions.

But a new deal won't happen without Europe's cooperation. European leaders have been behaving as if Iran has boxed them into a corner. The opposite is true: Harsher sanctions have shown Iranian leaders where their economy is headed if they don't acquiesce -- and negotiate.

(c)2019 Chicago Tribune

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