The Future of Iran-Europe Relations and the US Elections. Enough Red Tape!

Monday, September 28, 2020

Abed Akbari

With two months to go before the US presidential election, Trump is trying to reach certain agreements without considering their long-term effects to list these as his government's achievements. These include attempts to initiate the trigger mechanism and raising commotion to initiate the snapback sanctions on Iran and sign a normalization agreement between the Zionist regime and Muslim states in the region. Last month, at the UN Security Council meeting on the snapback sanctions against Iran, the US was isolated totally. Nevertheless, the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, continues his threats that the US will succeed in returning the UN sanctions against Iran once again by initiating the trigger mechanism. These allegations come when the US is not legally entitled to apply for snapback sanctions due to its withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The US is hoping that European countries will extend the arms embargo on Iran. However, European countries have agreed to stand up to US demand to initiate the snapback mechanism, despite US pressures on them, especially on Britain. There are differences within Europe over the sanctions on Iran. France and Germany have confirmed that Britain faces sensitivities to support its closest partner, the United States. Britain is seeking a free trade agreement with the US, and in Trump's ill logic, it cannot want a trade agreement and oppose the snapback simultaneously.

EU reactions to Trump continue to remain passive; however, the EU has stated that it intends to stay within the current deal framework and considers it the only peaceful solution for the Iran nuclear program. In the case of Trump re-election, it is clear that chances to rescue the JCPOA will reduce to zero. EU claims that the present situation is all it can do to keep the JCPOA alive, are unacceptable to Iran.



The Impact of US Elections on Europe

Every government attempts to make a list of its achievements for posterity as it approaches its final days. However, if the same government runs for re-election, it will exaggerate its achievements and last-minute groundbreakings and plan an October surprise. US hegemony under the Trump administration seems to have reached such a stage. The normalization plan between the Zionist regime and Muslim nations in West Asia seems to be one of these surprises, the future security implications for which will probably be on the next US administration or be a definite challenge for the people of the region. In the same way, Trump did not take responsibility for the consequences of withdrawing from the JCPOA, leaving all participants in a dilemma over the non-proliferation system over the past few years. Similarly, he also seems unaware of the balance of power in the region that will drastically change future security trends.

As a definite former and possibly current US ally, the EU should not have allowed an irresponsible government to take haphazard actions and ignore the consequences of its destructive behavior, especially as such an approach threatens EU security. Nevertheless, the EU is content with the minimum, such as keeping the JCPOA in name only. At the same time, it could have played a pivotal role in achieving the peaceful spirit of the deal for countries in West Asia, and the NPT on a larger scale, for a world free of nuclear weapons.

In the four years since Trump elected, European experts have repeatedly emphasized a simple solution for Europe's current sluggishness: achieving European strategic independence. Strategic independence means that Europe will carry a minimal weight against the US, not to confront it but to make its voice heard worldwide. Europe is still debating significant differences over the definition of strategic independence, and its leaders find it easier to follow the US rather than devise particular European thinking.

Nevertheless, this is a now or never opportunity. With the shifts currently taking place in the US-China rivalry and a new order taking shape, with the presence of China in the waters of the Persian Gulf and the stabilization of Russia in the Levant, Europe must look at the great blocs of power emerging and determine its place in the evolution of power. Europe can and should do more than the current pushing of paperwork for the JCPOA. Merely maintaining the JCPOA alive and opposing US sanctions is only a minimal effort on behalf of Europe if not a passive response. The Continent, known as the liberal order's normative pillar, is now trapped by American transnational laws.

This issue in itself is an indication of the importance of the JCPOA for the EU. As such, even a minimal attempt to keep the deal alive is an opportunity to stand up to US unilateralism. Of course, Iran is seeking a performance above this and implementing the economic interests of the agreement. Trump has openly called European countries spies for terrorists, and it is highly likely that he will announce the snapback of sanctions against Iran on 20 September and that the world must abide by them. This approach is illegal, but Trump's America is used to lawlessness. The most crucial advice for Europe is not to give in to what is detrimental to it. The fact that Trump wants 'passionate' elections should not hurt Europe or countries in West Asia, especially Iran, the Zionist lobby's primary target, and its sponsored president. It is necessary to mention a few points to inspire European officials who do not want to understand the reality of strategic independence.



First point: Foreign relations in the transition phase of international order

Firstly, power blocs are changing by international order in transition. The level of relations has decreased normatively and increased materialistically. Alliances are diverging from their original form and are transforming into systematic or negative alliances. These trends must have shown Europe that foreign relations are changing drastically in a transitioning international order. As substrates move to form new power blocs, all countries endeavor to increase their national independence to redefine their interests in the new global context. Europe and Iran are not exempt from this. In rivalry with China, the US is willing to pay the price to keep its supremacy, even at the cost of losing its alliances. Therefore, Europe must consider that the US will sacrifice it as and when necessary for a balancing act with China. Europe has already experienced Washington's approach to the US trade war with China first hand.

In the evolution of power equations at the international level, Iran has always tried to promote its foreign policy slogan of "Neither East Nor West." In the trade agreements and talks carried out by Iran's top diplomat with other countries and international companies at the JCPOA initially conclusion, great care was taken in selecting the best multinational companies, many of which were European. Although Iran tried to normalize its relations with the world under the JCPOA, it is today forced to export its natural resources, such as oil and gas, under unfair conditions. Doubtless, these are the best decisions to get Iran through its current situation, but perhaps they would not have been its choice in the absence of sanctions.

Iran also wants to maintain its strategic independence. By adopting strategic patience over the last few years, it has endured the reinstatement of sanctions and unilateral adherence to the JCPOA. International sanctions cannot easily break Iran's high resilience. Geographically, the country is strategically located and is rich in natural resources. However, where Iran-Europe relations are concerned, there is a possibility of a complete breakdown in communications. Meetings between the two sides may continue, but without exchanging meaningful notions. This fragile situation may change at any moment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Undoubtedly, diplomacy will no longer have the chance to shine in this new environment, and Europe must consider this carefully.

To date, efforts have been made to resolve the issue through diplomatic channels. However, in the current economic war against Iran, only pragmatic military forces will withstand this all-out external pressure. Europe must keep in mind that the US, by sanction policy, is making Iran dependent on other powers. A robust European diplomatic approach to the JCPOA and finding a solution to compensate for the damages inflicted on it by Trump, especially in the economic sector, could prevent Iran's geographical or military leniency in front of Europe's rivals.



Second point: Security factor, a forgotten element of European calculations

There are numerous possible European excuses for further cooperation with the US, ranging from a lack of total compliance by Iran to its commitments under the JCPOA to various regional issues or domestic policy issues in Iran. Even more recently, the US-UK Free Trade Agreement is under discussion. Europe's constant refrain "Iran also," used to soften or forget the misguided US approach on the international stage, cannot conceal the fact that the US destroyed one of the most significant NPT agreements and continues to keep the military option on the table. Debates on "in addition to the US" "Iran also" rage while the main element and bedrock are forming Iran's approach is ignored or deliberately omitted.

Continued sanctions against Iran and the end of the JCPOA are tantamount to ignoring international, regional, and structural realities. Five years on from the conclusion of the JCPOA, Europe must have a realistic outlook on the security of the region. Yesterday's voluntary efforts by Iran aimed to avoid the spillover of security issues in West Asia into Europe and the region's current gradual erosion of stability. Europe cannot deny these realities. West Asian issues prevailing in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen seem endless for Iran and Europe, as one is a neighboring country, and the other is at the heart of the crises. At the same time, the US is only concerned with strengthening terrorism as a pretext to counter-terrorism. In its last intervention, it targeted a top Iranian commander.

In recent years, Europeans have tried to define new strategic points to maintain security in their immediate neighborhood and prevent problems from spilling over into Europe. However, it seems that they have made a strategic mistake in determining these points where Iran is concerned, and this will bring them face to face with challenges in the security sector soon stemming from regional insecurities. Today, if Europe cannot adopt active diplomacy towards Iran and the JCPOA, it will be forced to ask Iran to negotiate over security in a new environment under unclear circumstances. At that time, Europe may have serious intentions to negotiate, persevere, and honestly wish to reach tangible results with Iran, but it may be too late.

Presently, Britain's inclination to conclude a free trade agreement with the US has been cited by Europe as an apology for the London approach to the JCPOA, or in other words, for its moving closer to the US. Logically, no connection can be established between the trade agreement and the JCPOA, apart from the EU and US games already witnessed. It is assuming that being hard on Iran and aligning itself with the US on sanctioning Iran will gain Britain a free trade agreement with the US. It likewise will destroy the JCOPA. Is this rational killing a security agreement in which it is also a beneficiary in favor of a financial deal? When British, German, and French officials talk about a trade agreement with the US, they must be aware that the JCPOA is also beneficial. Thus, there is only one interpretation of this pretext: British authorities compare the value of British lives with money by comparing a security agreement (the JCPOA) with a free trade agreement. Such a choice is not rational unless Britain is desperate to earn its daily bread.

Europe is fully aware of how much a reduction in Iran's significant presence in the region will affect security, given the lack of regional security agreements. Considering the fragile balance between the regional countries and the aftermath of 20-years-old US wars in West Asia that have led to Daesh's rise and other self-proclaimed terroristic forces in the region, the situation will undoubtedly get out of control again soon. Today, France has been forced to intervene in Lebanon. Apart from incurring the cost, this actor is walking on the razor's edge by accepting this responsibility, given the possibility of ignoring one of the regional governmental and non-governmental stakeholders' interests at any moment. It is also likely to put itself in jeopardy as for its history of domestic extremism.

This experience will probably soon show both Europe and the young french president that 'for the problems of West Asia to remain in West Asia' they should strengthen only the will and independence of regional countries materially and spiritually. And their destiny must be left into their own hands. There are capable leaders in the region who know the existing good and evil only too well and act on the region's realities. This regional insourcing, or leaving the area to cope with its problems, will benefit European leaders who have countless issues in their own countries.

European leaders must take on a mediator's task: the people's wish in Iran and the region. Europe must come to itself. Covert and overt interference in regional governments' affairs, as carried out by the US, is neither in line with the historical situation in the region nor with the current evolution of power on the international stage. The deeply wounding consequences of this behavior will also hurt Europe. Today, Europe is tasked with bringing the JCPOA to tangible economic and normative results – a task that will determine Europe's fate.



Concluding remarks

While the Trump administration is only concerned with listing its achievements and getting more votes to win the election, Europe seems to remain passive. Trump and his administration have surrendered to changes in power on the international stage in a free fall. Outwardly, Trump appears to be at war with China. Nevertheless, inwardly, he has significantly contributed to the decline of the US. Within a context where he is also willing to sacrifice Europe to get out of the current situation, Europe is not taking strategic independence advice seriously. Trump and his team do not give a second thought to future damages caused by their maneuvers in the past four years, which continue today, the consequences of which will also reach Europe.

Europe cannot claim that the current situation is all it can do to keep the JCPOA alive. European leaders must be prepared to accept the excruciating issue that Europe has no place in the international system other than pushing paperwork, and this cannot be right. As a participant to the JCPOA, Europe must take steps to lift sanctions on Iran. If the situation remains as is, Europe must declare the death of the deal and accept that like Britain, Germany, and France – who act according to the US law of the jungle – Iran can also leave the agreement and act as it wishes, even according to the same law of the jungle. The genesis of European strategic independence will reflect its understanding of the current turning point in history, which underscores the importance of a unique European voice.

Nevertheless, the leaders of the Continent have not yet realized this. While Russia and China are attempting to overcome the challenges of the JCPOA by voicing their independent views directly, Europe still depends on the decisions of a power that no longer values its ally. If declaring the nuclear deal dead and gone is difficult for European leaders, they should be more serious about dealing with it diplomatically.

Iran's strategic patience is over, and it will no longer accept a passive European response. The reinstatement of old and imposition of new sanctions on Iran is no longer acceptable. In the case of Trump re-election, Iran will play a very different game. At that time, the JCPOA can no longer be saved. The death of JCPOA at that time is as apparent to Europe as it is to Iran. If Europe is unwilling to see the truth, Iran, China, and Russia will look in its stead. Europe only needs to absolve itself of responsibility and resign from its hollow ceremonial position. Other powers are well aware of what to do at the leadership level on the international stage instead of pushing paperwork.