SOFIA — European Council President Donald Tusk slammed U.S. President Donald Trump for pulling out of the Iran nuclear accord and threatening the EU with tariffs on steel and aluminum in by far the harshest rebuke yet by Brussels of the unpredictable American leader.
In the Bulgarian capital Sofia for an EU leaders dinner that will focus largely on the fallout from Trumps recent policy moves, Tusk cited the “capricious assertiveness of the U.S. administration” and said developing a unified response to Trump would be a main topic of discussion.
“Looking at the latest decisions of Trump, someone could even think: With friends like that, who needs enemies?” Tusk, who is a former Polish prime minister, said in a statement to reporters.
Reiterating the position of France, Germany and the United Kingdom, the three European powers that helped broker the Iran nuclear agreement, Tusk said that the EU would remain committed to the deal as long as Tehran fulfils its obligations. And he said that the EU would work to develop ways to shield European companies that continue to do business with Iran from any sanctions or other penalties imposed by Washington.
“I want the European Commission to be given a green light, so it is ready to act when European interests are affected,” he added.
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had a similar message at a joint press conference with U.N. Secretary General António Gutteres in Brussels at which both leaders pledged their support for saving the agreement.
Juncker said that allowing the Iran deal to die would “seriously threaten peace and security” in the region and urged leaders gathering in Sofia to come up with a “a common and consensual approach” on the issue.
“We must say that we have the means, we will use them, but we must face the truth: Means are limited but we will fully exploit the means we have at our disposal,” he said.
The break with the U.S. over the Iran deal is just the latest in a series of major breaches in the transatlantic relationship. To the dismay of EU leaders, Trump also pulled out of the Paris climate accords, moved the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and imposed unilateral tariffs on steel against some trading partners.
Tusk also demanded that Trump grant a permanent exemption to the EU from threatened tariffs on steel and aluminum, and he rejected as “absurd” any assertion by the U.S. that such tariffs could be justified on national security grounds.
“My objective is simple — we stick to our guns,” Tusk said of the expected leaders discussion on trade. “That means permanent exemptions from U.S. tariffs on aluminium and steel.”
He added, “The EU and U.S. are friends and partners. Therefore U.S. tariffs cannot be justified on the basis of national security. It is absurd to even think that Europe could be a threat to the United States. We need to bring reality back into this discussion.”
Shortly after Trumps election, Tusk had joked that his European colleagues had taken to calling him “Our Donald.” But at the news conference in Sofia, he was clearly not in any joking mood. He darkly thanked Trump for delivering a healthy reality check to EU countries — historically Americas closest allies since the end of the World War II.
The EU should also be “grateful to President Trump,” Tusk said, “because thanks to him we have got rid of all illusions. He has made us realize if you need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your arm.”
“Besides traditional political challenges, such as the rise of China or the aggressive stance of Russia, we are witnessing today a new phenomenon — the capricious assertiveness of the U.S. administration,” Tusk said.
He called for the EU to unite “economically, politically and militarily … like never before.”
“I have no doubt that in the new global game,” Tusk said, “Europe will either be one of the major players or will be a pawn.”