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With all the issues Europe faces today - Brexit, debt problems, political discord - spending last week in Milan was definitely an interesting experience for Marina and me.
But out of all those issues, my contacts were concerned about one thing above all else...
I'm talking about Washington's pending action on the Iranian nuclear accord.
And among the circles I travel in, most of the angst over this action is found in the intersection between energy issues and the once-again rising level of geopolitical tension.
But before we turn to the energy implications, here's what exactly is happening in Washington.
President Donald Trump announced Friday that he will not recertify Iranian compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
That's the two-year-old agreement between Tehran and six major Western nations designed to limit Iran's nuclear weapons program.
The primary EU nations have already indicated they will move immediately to support JCPOA and break with any U.S. action, thereby driving yet another wedge between the United States and its erstwhile allies in the European Union.
And while Iran might end up not being hurt much at all...
Here's why U.S. oil companies will suffer.
Iran May Be Bad - but It Didn't Break the Deal
Crucially, the JCPOA agreement is between Iran on the one hand and the permanent members of the UN Security Council - the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, China, and France - plus Germany on the other.
Central to the accord is a trade-off between Iran foregoing a nuclear arms program, at least in the medium term, in return for a phasing out of Western economic sanctions. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is tasked with the monitoring of Iranian compliance.
Every party, including the United States, has acknowledged that Tehran has lived up to its end of the bargain.
The IAEA has been provided with unparalleled access to Iranian facilities. The agency has certified that Iran is abiding by the provisions both for the development program itself and the existing nuclear stockpile.
The problem for Trump is that the deal became a staple element of his stump speech during the presidential campaign.
Meanwhile Iran has continued its ballistic missile testing program and has stepped up support for the Syrian regime and Hezbollah, while the administration in Washington views the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization.
This view of the IRGC has been shared by the two previous administrations.
Now, all three of these considerations are certainly disconcerting. But the problem is that none of these is part of the JCPOA.
Trump wants to use matters not part of the accord to scuttle it.
A number of international leaders are saying both in public and in private that to do so would be tantamount to challenging the status of the United States as a credible partner in any international negotiations.
As one of my Russian colleagues put it last week, "One does not improve the trade in oranges by adding apples."
Actually, the President not certifying the JCPOA (something he did earlier this year) is not the end of the accord. Instead, it moves the matter to Congress, which has to decide whether sanctions should be renewed.
Politics notwithstanding, the renewal of sanctions will prove difficult in the absence of any indication that Iran has not abided by JCPOA provisions.
Nonetheless, it will have an impact on global energy markets...
About the Author
Dr. Kent Moors is an internationally recognized expert in oil and natural gas policy, risk assessment, and emerging market economic development. He serves as an advisor to many U.S. governors and foreign governments. Kent details his latest global travels in his free Oil & Energy Investor e-letter. He makes specific investment recommendations in his newsletter, the Energy Advantage. For more active investors, he issues shorter-term trades in his Energy Inner Circle.