Brussels Must Avoid Repeating the Big Mistake

Monday, April 16, 2018


Majid Takht-e-Ravanchi

Iran's Vice President for Political Affairs


It was only two months ago that US President Donald Trump renewed waiver of his country’s nuclear-related secondary sanctions against Iran in line with Washington’s commitments under Tehran’s nuclear deal with the P5+1 group of countries, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). However, he threatened that if what he described as JCPOA’s flaws were not corrected before the next deadline for certifying Iran's compliance with the JCPOA arrived in May 2018, the United States would leave the nuclear deal. The United States’ threat came in contrast to the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency has released nine reports during the past two years, in which the agency’s director general has reaffirmed Iran's compliance with all its commitments under the JCPOA. However, Washington’s track records in this regard have been totally bleak and Tehran has frequently warned about the United States’ violations of its JCPOA commitments.

The first time that the United States threatened to leave the JCPOA but fell short of doing that was the previous time that it waivered nuclear-related sanctions against Iran in September 2017. During his election campaigns, Trump had lost no opportunity to voice his hatred for the JCPOA and had even promised that he would tear the nuclear deal up as soon as he got into the White House. At the present time, about 13 months have passed since he made that promise, but he has not been able to live up to it. Trump has on frequent occasions took the former US officials to task, claiming that during negotiations for the conclusion of the JCPOA, Iran has gained more concessions than the United States and this is the main reason why he insists that the JCPOA must be either fixed or nixed. Of course, nobody has ever claimed that the JCPOA is a perfect and flawless accord. No party to the nuclear negotiations can also claim that they have met their demands to the maximum extent possible through this agreement. In fact, it is the nature of international negotiations that negotiating parties never get everything they seek, because all negotiating parties insist on their positions to a maximum degree as a result of which such negotiations usually get stalled.

Since Trump came to office in Washington, European officials, especially from three European countries that were active parties to nuclear talks with Iran, as well as the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, have voiced their support for the JCPOA time and again. They have also emphasized that the JCPOA is solely about Iran's nuclear issue and cannot be renegotiated and other topics, which have nothing to do with the JCPOA, must not be mixed with the nuclear deal. European officials have insisted on declaring these positions in public so as to make it clear for the US administration that they are bent on maintaining the JCPOA. In September last year and after Trump's baseless claims against the JCPOA, Mogherini immediately talked in support of the JCPOA, which was actually indicative of Europe’s unequivocal position in this regard.

The European Union considers the JCPOA among its few achievements in the field of foreign policy. In December 2017, the French foreign minister noted that the nuclear agreement, which was reached in Vienna, should be respected by all sides and this has been the case up to the present time. He said the fact that Trump had not confirmed this agreement would make no change in Europe’s position on the JCPOA and expressed hope that Europe’s position on Iran would not change in the future.

For her part, Mogherini has announced frequently, including during her visit to Washington, that the European Union is a single voice in support of the JCPOA. Last December, she said in an interview in Rome that maintaining Iran's nuclear deal and its full implementation was a key security priority for Europe, because the deal has been effective and belongs to the entire international community. Mogherini’s remarks are important in that she considers the JCPOA as an agreement, which is directly related to security of Europe and, therefore, she believes that other parties cannot make a decision on the security of Europe. Her assertion that the JCPOA belongs to the entire international community is also a clear message to Trump to tell him that the United States is in no position to make a decision on the JCPOA on its own.

During the past few weeks, various European officials have made comments about continuation of economic interaction with Iran even if the United States leaves JCPOA and have been more vociferous in this regard than before. A while ago, the person in charge of Task Force Iran, which is affiliated with the European External Action Service, noted that the European Union may revive regulations it had enforced in 1996 to protect its companies against possible sanctions from Washington if the United States decides to withdraw from the JCPOA. These regulations originally came into force in 1996 in order to support and protect European companies in the face of the United States’ transnational sanctions and to make way for European firms to work with Iran.

France’s state-run BPI bank has also announced that Paris will grant euro-based loans to Tehran in order to help trade with Iran outside the scope of the US sanctions. During the past decade, European banks have been fined sores of millions of dollars over violating the United States’ transnational sanctions against Iran and are seeking ways to guard themselves against possible sanctions by the United States. One of these ways is to take the US dollar out of the cycle of financial transactions with Iran. It has been for a while that a number of European banks have been trying to find innovative ways to counter the US sanctions and it seems that the aforesaid French bank will not be the sole European bank to resort to this mechanism in order to continue its economic cooperation with Iran.

Iran and Europe have common interests in maintaining the JCPOA. Both sides are aware that revocation of the JCPOA would have irreparable negative consequences for the region and beyond. At the same time, Iran and Europe have different views on other issues. Europe is critical of Iran's missile program and believes that it stands in contradiction to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231. On the other hand, Iran maintains that its missile program is part of the country’s legitimate defense policy and program and is not up for negotiations. Tehran also argues that its missile program does not fall within the scope of the UN Security Council Resolution 2231, because Iran's missiles have not been designed to carry nuclear warheads. The two sides have different views on some regional issues as well. Europe considers some of Iran's regional activities to be destabilizing. On the other hand, Iran stresses the need to resolve regional crises through dialogue and slams Europe’s policy of selling deadly weapons to some regional countries to be used against defenseless people, including in Yemen. Tehran also believes that continued support of European countries for nondemocratic regional regimes and exporting weapons to these regimes have been the main factors causing instability in the region. The Islamic Republic also believes that Europe’s tolerance for inhumane crimes committed against the people of Palestine and Yemen is a sign of the bloc’s double-standard policy and is by no means acceptable. At the same time, both Iran and European are of the opinion that these bones of contention have nothing to do with the JCPOA and should not be allowed to affect commitment of signatories to the JCPOA.

It is not yet clear what decision Trump will make in May about waiver or continuation of secondary nuclear-related sanctions against Iran. If Trump does not leave the JCPOA but continues to gradually create a negative atmosphere for economic cooperation with Iran by Western entities, Europe will have to oppose Washington’s measures in a firmer way. This firmness must be seen in the European countries’ position and be also made known through adoption of practical steps by the European countries against negative atmosphere created by the United States to prevent further implementation of the JCPOA.

On the other hand, if Trump actually decides to leave the JCPOA, he must know that this would be the biggest strategic mistake made by the United States in the past few decades of the country’s history. Perhaps this is why European countries are trying to dissuade Trump from doing so. However, they are also considering the option of reactivating the European Union’s 1996 regulations if they fail to convince Trump in a bid to support their companies and institutions in the face of possible US sanctions. It is also possible for some European countries to be willing to help the United States mount pressure on Iran in other areas in order to appease Trump and convince him to keep the JCPOA. Of course, this would be a big mistake, which may finally lead to the loss of the JCPOA.

On the other hand, Iran has announced that it would not be the first country to leave the JCPOA and will remain committed to it as long as its interests are met. At that time, the reaction that Europe would show to the United States’ decision to quit the JCPOA would be of utmost importance. In addition to taking position against the United States’ decision, European countries must also take practical steps in the event that the US quits the nuclear deal, because those steps will be assessed by Iran and the Islamic Republic will make a decision accordingly.

The United States’ unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran will have untoward effects on many issues other than the JCPOA, including the international nonproliferation regime. Perhaps, this is why an increasing number of countries, including in Europe, has been opposing unilateralism of the US administration.


Source: E’temad Online

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