European diplomats are currently preoccupied by an effort to prove to Washington that the Iranian nuclear deal is of value. In an attempt to persuade the Trump administration to stick with the agreement – in other words, to please the White House – Europeans are now on a fact-finding mission to check on Iran’s meddling in the many conflicts across the Middle East. Donald Trump has threatened to kill the deal in May when he will need to decide whether to keep in place sanction waivers required by the nuclear deal.
To support its efforts, Europe needs to make a common cause with Russia and China to create diplomatic pressure to keep the deal in place, instead of trying to placate Washington by re-opening discussions on the deal. Buttressing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with additional deals and arrangements on arms control and regional security would be beneficial as well. At the same time, Brussels should get ready and protect investors and economic stakeholders against the extra-territorial effect of potential new American sanctions.
Europeans should also work on protecting their diplomatic achievements, defend themselves and stick with their legal obligations and common positions. Promoting international law and the authority of the Security Council would be helpful as well as insisting that all signatories of the JCPOA remain fully committed to implementing a deal that has already proven its worth. Individual member states should also resist the US pressure to revise parts of the JCPOA. Before the May’s decision, the EU should lobby the US administration and the US Congress to re-certify the agreement with Iran. It is in the interests of the EU and the P4+1 to keep Tehran adhere to the agreement by creating an environment whereby Iran can be receiving most of the benefits granted by the nuclear deal even if the US walks away from it.
At the same time though, the EU should also start contingency planning for US secondary options. Preventive diplomacy should focus on creating enforcement for European firms and the EU leadership should help member states coordinate their contingency plans. EU-wide mechanisms should focus on protecting the legitimate interests of European investors in case Washington re-imposes financial sanctions. Brussels should ideally propose a “blocking regulation” that would make it illegal for European companies to pay fines for violating US extra-territorial sanctions. Such a regulation could go hand in hand with a system to reimburse damages incurred by European companies in the US by introducing penalties on US assets in Europe.
Moreover, the EU efforts should be intensified to help small and medium-sized enterprises conduct due diligence procedures in Iran to make sure that their local business partners are not subject to any remaining sanctions. If the EU could speed up its evaluation of extending the third-country lending mandate of the European Investment Bank to Iran, this could help increase the availability of finance and the possibility of merging loans with grants for private-sector and infrastructure development in Iran.
‘The Art of Sticking with the Nuclear Deal: Why Europe Should Defy Trump on Iran’ – Policy Brief by Steven Blockmans – Center for European Policy Studies / CEPS.
(The Policy Brief can be downloaded here)