President Donald Trump is again sending mixed signals on an important policy. Earlier this month, his administration followed through on reimposing oil sanctions against Iran, though the immediate effect is on third parties doing business with Tehran. He then immediately waived the sanctions for six months for eight countries that are Iran’s major oil and gas customers, explaining the waivers by saying he did not want to roil oil markets.
The administration did not, however, issue a waiver for the European Union, which played a key role in the United Nations sanctions that forced Iran to come to the negotiating table five years ago and later agree to stop developing the capacity to produce nuclear weapons. The EU wants to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which Trump pulled the U.S. out of earlier this year, and is actively trying to prevent European-based firms from cooperating with the new American sanctions.
Oil is the key to squeezing the Iranian economy, while broad international cooperation is key to shutting off exports of an economically critical and relatively homogenous product like oil. Trump’s approach and off-the-cuff statements are undermining both aims.