Europe Facing a Difficult and Complicated Test on the JCPOA

Monday, May 21, 2018


Hossein Gharibi
Director of EU Group at IRAN-EURICA Iranian Institute for European & American Studies


Q: What measures can Europe take to preserve the nuclear deal with Iran known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)? To what extent do you believe that such measures would be effective?

A: Just as European countries have indicated in their negotiations and also in positions they have announced, they are intent on using all means and potentialities at their disposal to keep the JCPOA in place. Perhaps one could assume that under the present circumstances, Europe is facing a much more difficult situation compared to us. I mean, at the present time, Europe must be accountable both to Iran and to domestic public opinion in Europe and also to other regional actors with regard to commitments it has undertaken. Europe considers compliance with these commitments, especially to ensure the full implementation of all the provisions of the JCPOA by Iran, as a duty for itself. In my opinion, Europe is currently facing a major test in order to preserve the JCPOA, which has been its sole major political achievement since the formation of the European Union. The measure taken by the US President Donald Trump to announce withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA four days before its primary schedule and just before planned visits to Washington by French President Emmanuel Macron, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel was aimed at humiliation of Europe by the United States as well. Therefore, I believe that conditions faced by Europeans are totally difficult and complicated and the means available to them are also limited. Perhaps it is a little premature to speculate about possible effectiveness of these means. The most important means available to Europe is the “law for blocking extra-territorial sanctions” by the United States, which is also known as the Blocking Statute. Of course, many experts argue that by making changes to laws and regulations, Americans have already succeeded in making the use of this means impossible for Europeans. A case in point is the possible establishment of a fund to provide financial support to European companies in order to make up for possible losses that they may incur as a result of activities in Iran. It is also possible for Europeans to propose establishment of a joint enrichment consortium between a number of European countries and Iran in order to provide Iran with its needed enriched uranium. It is also possible for Europeans to take action to convince Iran to change its mind about enriching uranium and accept permanence of the “sunset clause in the JCPOA.” In general, I can say that although the existing potential of Europe for preserving the JCPOA cannot be ignored, pressures and restrictions exerted by the United States are also tremendous. At any rate, Europe is now facing a difficult test and Iran hopes that the European Union would successfully pass this test.

Q: In your opinion, what other demands may Europe put to Iran apart from continuation of its commitments as per the JCPOA, and what do you think about a possible response from Iran?

A: In general, Europeans’ demands are clear and, in fact, they are the same concerns that Trump’s administration has expressed about Iran. However, at the present time, the main question is “can these issues be added to the JCPOA in the form of a complementary agreement or should we consider the JCPOA as an independent deal and follow up on other issues of concern to the West through separate negotiations?” At any rate, it is clear that apart from commitments that we have accepted within framework of the JCPOA, Europeans expected Iran to agree with other issues as well. These issues have been probably communicated to Iran as a package through recent negotiations between Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and European Union officials in Brussels. I believe that Europeans will not consider the JCPOA as being independent from other issues, though they will not make implementation of any one of those issues conditional on others. However, they will demand inclusion of issues of concern to the West, such as Iran’s “missile program” and its “regional influence” along with the “sunset clause in the JCPOA” in the form of annexes to the JCPOA. For its part, Iran can take two approaches to this issue. Firstly, it can see the JCPOA independent of other issues that cause concern in the West, in which case, Europe will not demand anything in return for economic concessions that it gives us. I other words, it will not make giving concessions to Iran conditional on other issues. However, if Iran accepted the JCPOA along with annexed provisions from Europeans, European concessions would become conditional on the implementation of those provisions, which will face Iran with difficult conditions. If Europe decides to take this approach to the JCPOA, the answer given by Iran will not be desirable to Brussels.

Q: Given the discourse-based gap that exists between Europe and the United States with regard to the JCPOA, what is your opinion about the future outlook of transatlantic relations in view of the relations that each side has with Iran?

A: I do not really believe in the existence of a discourse-based gap between Europe and the United States. In my opinion, this is a difference in approaches, not a discourse-based gap and both sides have common views with regard to their goals and discourses. In other words, Europeans, more or less, share the same concerns and worries about Iran as the United States. However, one can claim that Europe chooses a different path to address those worries. Europeans believe that although they seek the same goals as the United States, they should not dismantle the JCPOA, because this measure will practically obliterate the path to achieving other goals. Therefore, I can say that we are witnessing two different approaches in this case. I believe that in view of Europe’s various kinds of dependencies on the United States in all political, security, military and even economic fields, even when European countries believe that their approach is right, they have no choice but to be part of the global orchestra conducted by the United States and follow its lead due to those various dependencies on the United States. In general, I don’t think that this issue (the difference of opinions between Europe and the United States over JCPOA) could be considered as a ground for separation of Europe from the United States.


Interviewer: Ramin Nadimi
 Expert in Defense and Military Affairs

*Photo Credit: Almonitor
*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.


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