German Ambassador On Iran Deal

Originally published on May 17, 2018 10:12 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It is not often you hear a European leader talk about the United States with this much disdain. This was EU commission (ph) President Donald Tusk yesterday.

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DONALD TUSK: Looking at the latest decisions of President Trump, someone could sit and think, with friends like that, who needs enemies? But frankly speaking, Europe should be grateful by President Trump because thanks to him, we have got rid of all illusions. He has made us realize that if you need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your arm.

GREENE: Wow. OK. Tusk was reacting there to President Trump's decision to pull the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal. There's also a lingering tariff spat between the U.S. and Europe. U.S.-European relations are a central part of our next guest's resume. Peter Wittig is Germany's ambassador to the United States. He's in our studio in Washington, D.C., this morning.

Ambassador, thanks for coming in.

PETER WITTIG: It's my pleasure.

GREENE: Is Donald Tusk right? Do you see the U.S. as something like an enemy?

WITTIG: Oh, no, no, no. We might have some differences - quite important differences, like on the Iran nuclear issue, on trade issues - but they are so much more things that united - that are - is uniting us, and we will continue to be a good ally. And the U.S. is by far - I'm speaking for Germany - our most important ally outside Europe. But we do have some differences, and let's call a spade a spade, especially it's about the decision of the president to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal.

GREENE: Well, let me ask you about that because after that happened, the U.S. ambassador to your country, Richard Grenell, basically instructed German companies to halt business in Iran, and some took that as pretty rude for an ambassador to do that in the host country. There are reports now, though, that German and French businesses are beginning to pull back investments from Iran. So does that speak to the leverage that the U.S. has over European countries on an issue like this?

WITTIG: Well, you know, we made it very clear, we think the president's decision to walk away from the Iran deal is a mistake, and the Europeans will not follow. They will stick to the deal unless Iran is violating it, which has not happened. The deal was a major, if limited, achievement in our eyes. It blocked Iran's pathway to a nuclear bomb. It established an unprecedented inspection regime, enhanced our security. And so our goal is to keep that a deal alive. The...

GREENE: Is that possible without the United States?

WITTIG: It will not be easy. We have to make sure that there's a certain legitimate trade with Iran that is continuing. That was part of the deal. We have to protect our European industries from U.S. sanctions if they are imposed. And we're currently working on that. But let me also add, we do share U.S. concerns about Iran's aggressive activities, about its missile program. And we have said all along, we want to address them together with the U.S., if possible, but that will be now more difficult after the U.S. has walked away from the nuclear deal. And now it's up to the U.S. administration to present a strategy to tell us how it sees the way forward.

GREENE: You say that you want to protect European companies from U.S. sanctions as if that's an easy thing to do, but it's not so easy, is it?

WITTIG: It's - no, it's not. It's not easy. We have, you know, to deliberate what mechanisms we have. That was the purpose of the meeting that the leaders of the 28 countries in Sofia had - the 28 European countries had yesterday. But they are determined to keep that deal alive. And one part of the deal is legitimate trade with Iran, and we'll try our best. Why are we doing that? Because we think this deal enhances our security. There is an inspection regime. Our eyes and ears are on Iran. We don't want to lose that.

GREENE: In just a few seconds, Ambassador, did Donald Tusk just make your job as ambassador more difficult by saying such things yesterday?

WITTIG: Well, we have seen ups and downs in the transatlantic relationship. As I said before, the U.S. is our most important ally. We will have to tackle all the major challenges in international politics with the U.S., not against it. And that's our focus.

GREENE: All right, Peter Wittig is the German ambassador to the U.S. Thanks so much for your time, Ambassador.

WITTIG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.