When it comes to saving Iran's nuclear deal, Europe finds itself in the impossible situation of trying to salvage an accord unravelling because of the maximalist United States sanctions campaign.

Since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the accord over a year ago, a slow fuse has burned through Iran. At first, it appeared Iranian officials thought they might be able to wait out Trump. That talk faded as US sanctions choked off Iran's vital crude oil sales abroad and then began targeting its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and officials including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Soon, the talk changed to "strategic action" and threats to the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial global oil supply point.

That action has seen Iran break the limit put on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium under its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. President Hassan Rouhani says that starting tomorrow, Iran will begin enriching uranium to "any level we think is necessary and we need".

To Iran, the only people who now can prevent further escalation in the crisis are in Europe. In public comments, it is Europe that Iran keeps targeting.


But what, if anything, the Europeans can offer remains in question.

They've pointed to Instex, a trading vehicle that allows European and Iranian firms to send goods abroad and be paid locally to avoid American sanctions.

The US appears poised to potentially sanction Instex if it moves outside the bounds of food and medicine, which America still allows to be sold into Iran. And even if it did, there's no sign that any major company would be willing to risk US sanctions in the name of European diplomacy, something the Trump Administration seems all too happy to point out.

- AP