Contrary to popular belief, the Iran nuclear deal is still alive. The Europeans, however, are faced with an impossible task: to preserve an international agreement that cannot survive without Washington’s backing in the face of an aggressive US posture toward Tehran. Earlier in May, US President Donald J. Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal calling it “decaying and rotten.” The United States next re-imposed a first batch of economic sanctions on Iran in early August. Multinational companies have started leaving Iran even before the 4 November deadline by when Washington will enact a renewed oil and gas embargo on the country.
In late August, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that Tehran continues to broadly abide by its obligations under the 2015 deal. That confirmation coincided with a meeting of the European Union’s foreign ministers in Vienna to discuss Europe’s position toward Iran. As for what Europe’s approach should be toward the United States, we can start with the most obvious point – whether the European Union can stand firm on the Iran nuclear deal itself. Indeed, Brussels has not only vowed to defend its companies from US sanctions for doing legitimate business with Iran, it has also passed the respective legislative act in time for the re-imposition of US sanctions.
European policymakers may be hoping they do not actually have to apply this “blocking regulation,” just as in the late 1990s when the EU and the United States both agreed to waive their mutual sanctions. Still, Europe on its own, does not have the political power to defend the Iran deal with Washington gone rogue on its commitment. It cannot keep up economic ties against US pressure, much as policymakers in Iran demand precisely that. Still, trying its best to do so is worthwhile also in political terms as it may in the long run help fill the vacuum created by the uncooperative partner.
Finding new alternative payment channels that are not subject to US sanctions, thus making any dollar transaction impossible, is an important element of a broader strategy toward financial independence. It is not only relevant to Iran but also toward Russia, where the EU may not want to follow any and all US policies but is currently compelled to do so. The three European signatories of the deal – namely France, the United Kingdom, and Germany – had tried to find common ground with the United States earlier this year on areas of mutual concern, such as Iran’s missile program, its involvement in the region’s conflicts, and a continuation of its nuclear commitments after 2025 – only to be snubbed by Washington’s unilateral withdrawal from the deal.
The current US “strategy,” a fourteen-point list of demands for Tehran’s submission, seems to have only one intention: to destabilize and ultimately bring down the Islamic Republic. Much as the Europeans would similarly wish for a free and democratic Iran, they are unwilling to collaborate on this approach. Yet, beyond deploring Washington’s deplorable go-it-alone attitude, the EU should come up with proposals of its own. Whether it is the wars in Syria and Yemen, the situation in Iraq or Lebanon, or indeed the conundrum that Europeans still like to refer to as the “Middle East peace process” – only if the EU contributes both ideas and means does it stand the chance to be taken seriously by its US partner as well as by regional actors and by Russia as well.
‚Europe Cannot Save the Iran Deal, But It Must Try‘ – Op-Ed by Cornelius Adebahr – Carnegie Europe.