By W.J. Hennigan
September 26, 2018

The fiery speeches against Iran by President Donald Trump and his top advisers at the U.N. General Assembly have intended to demonstrate Tehran’s growing isolation from the world community. Instead, the opposite has proven true as divisions have been exposed between the U.S. and its closest allies.

The latest broadside against Iran came Wednesday while Trump hosted a U.N. Security Council meeting where he launched into a diatribe that repeated many of criticisms against the 2015 nuclear accord, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

“This horrible, one-sided deal allowed Iran to continue its path towards a bomb and gave the regime a cash lifeline when they needed it the most,” Trump said. “They were in big, big trouble. They needed cash. We gave it to them.”

The JCPOA brought Iran’s nuclear program under tight international controls, but freed it from heavy sanctions. Tehran has stayed in accordance with the agreement, despite the U.S. pullout, while also trying to salvage a deal with the remaining stakeholders: Russia, China, Germany, Britain and France.

The Trump Administration announced implementing new economy-crippling sanctions against Iran in May with more severe measures to follow in November targeting oil sales. Trump promised these actions would be “tougher than ever before.”

However, once Trump finished speaking, French President Emmanuel Macron took the floor to say the U.S. approach was inadequate. “It can’t boil down to just sanctions and containment, we need to have the space for new negotiations,” he said.

“The serious crisis of confidence was opened by the imposition of extraterritorial sanctions by the United States, but Tehran keeps abiding by its nuclear obligation,” Macron said. Then British Prime Minister Theresa May agreed, as did Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and others attending the meeting.

It was the Trump Administration’s latest failed attempt at swaying the international community’s commitment to the multilateral nuclear deal. With few exceptions, foreign nations have opted to defend the agreement rather than join America’s outbursts against it.

Iran has emerged as the Administration’s bogeyman repeatedly this week as the U.N. assembly took place in New York. On Tuesday, Trump said Iran’s leaders “sow chaos, death and destruction,” so other nations should join his “economic pressure” campaign. Later, his national security adviser John Bolton warned Iran there would be “hell to pay” if it harms American citizens. He added the “murderous regime and its supporters will face significant consequences if they do not change their behavior.

Then, the State Department tried to rally support against Tehran by publishing a 48-page report called “Outlaw Regime: A Chronicle of Iran’s Destructive Activities” which examines its support for terror groups, missile program, illicit financial activities and other issues. The U.S. also recently unveiled plans to create an around-the-clock Farsi channel that promotes Western propaganda on television, radio, and social media.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told the U.N. General Assembly that all of these initiatives have led him to believe the Trump Administration is pursuing a strategy of regime change in his country. “It is ironic that the U.S. government does not even conceal its plan for overthrowing the same government it invites to talks,” he said Tuesday.

The Trump Administration’s central issue with Iran is its pursuit of ballistic missile technology and support of proxy militias in war-torn places such as Yemen and Syria. Both of those actions, which other nations agree is deeply destabilizing, are not covered under the JCPOA.

To ensure that the country is in compliance to its commitments in the agreements, the International Atomic Energy Agency routinely checks Iranian nuclear facilities. It has so far passed those examinations.

That is why Russia, China, Germany, Britain, and France signed a deal this week on the U.N. sidelines to set up legal entity to circumvent U.S. sanctions — yet another sign Trump’s efforts may have backfired.

Still the U.S. wields great power even on its own. Even though European governments are sticking with Iran, many of their companies are not. French energy giant Total, Danish shipping giant AP Moller-Maersk, and French carmaker Peugeot, are among the growing number of companies to flee under the threat of U.S. sanctions.

No one expects a full return to the level of international sanctions that were in place prior to the 2015 nuclear deal — a prodigious, nearly global and ultimately successful effort aimed at forcing Iran to the negotiating table. European nations were far more willing to participate in Washington’s no-holds-barred approach toward Iran during the Obama Administration when Tehran was widely perceived to be racing toward a nuclear bomb.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has maintained that U.S. policy is not to overthrow the government in Tehran. Rather, the goal is is to rein it in. But, in order to do that, the U.S. needs allies’ help.

“I was disturbed and, indeed, deeply disappointed to hear the remaining parties in the deal announce they’re setting up a special payment system to bypass U.S. sanctions,” Pompeo said Tuesday in New York. “This is one of the most counterproductive measures imaginable for regional and global peace and security. By sustaining revenues to the regime, you are solidifying Iran’s ranking as the number one state sponsor of terror.”

Write to W.J. Hennigan at william.hennigan@time.com.

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