By Rufat Ahmadzada
Since President Trump pulled out of the Iran deal (also known as the JCPOA), the European Union has continued to uphold the nuclear agreement with Iran. Brussels has made it clear that it will stick to the agreement regardless of Washington’s withdrawal. The EU prefers to do business and trade with the Islamic Republic, turning a blind eye towards the regime’s malign activities in the region and, to a certain extent, in Europe. More importantly, with the ongoing gross human rights violations against the Iranian people, including the imprisonment on trumped-up charges of Iranian-European dual nationals, the EU’s current policy on Iran appears to be deeply flawed.
The Trump administration is trying to bring the EU into alignment with its maximum pressure policy on Iran. In February, the EU’s foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini, boycotted the Polish Summit on Middle East Security, which mainly focused on Iran, because of the EU’s differences with the US. After US sanctions on Iran, back in January, the European Union announced it would be setting up a special payment mechanism to bypass US sanctions. As predicted, this effort could not be effected and so far it has failed to achieve its objective. Any international business with assets in the US risks sanctions and the seizure of its assets by the US government if it conducts business with Iran. Moreover, the US dollar plays an indispensable role in global trade. European leaders failed to grasp this key element of international trade when they initiated the special payment mechanism in order to bypass the sanctions.
Recently, EU officials conveyed their disappointment at the US sanctions, following the announcement by President Rouhani that the regime will suspend compliance with parts of the 2015 nuclear agreement, a year after the US withdrew from the deal. The EU rejected Iran’s 60 days “ultimatum” and expressed its “regret” at the newly imposed US sanctions. Islamic Republic officials announced that Tehran would restart its uranium enrichment program if world powers do not keep their promises under the deal, mainly referring to the European Union’s role as a guarantor. Having felt the growing international pressure within the framework of the Trump doctrine with tough sanctions imposed on the oil and gas industry as well as internal dissatisfaction with the Iranian government’s mismanagement, the rulers of Iran are desperately trying to pressure Brussels in order to widen differences between the EU and US. As a matter of fact, the European countries will have to choose between joining the US in full isolation of the Islamic Republic or sticking to the failed strategy.
So far Brussels’ sanctions on Iran’s intelligence ministry over the foiled plots last year in Denmark and France are not enough to secure itself from the regime’s ideological and political influences which have the potential to turning into a security threat. Taking into account that the current EU position needs urgent modification with respect to Iran, Brussels will have to make clear its position on Iran amidst the growing tensions in the Persian Gulf.
WHAT SHOULD BE THE EU’S NEW APPROACH TO IRAN?
The EU should actively engage in providing the necessary support to the Iranian opposition, mainly led by the exiled Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi, whose vision for a new Iran is the creation of a secular democratic state. Iranian protesters chant Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi’s name frequently. According to various experts, his popularity has risen significantly since 2016. As an advocate for a free, democratic Iran, Mr Pahlavi is considered the only Iranian politician who can bridge the country’s widely disparate segments, including ethnic and religious minorities. The EU should adopt a single, united policy to support the people of Iran and their rights by providing all available support for the democratic opposition.
The coordination of Brussels’ policy with the United States can also increase pressure on Iran’s government in the long term. Otherwise, if it continues its current stance, the EU might embolden the regime as it tries to circumvent the economic pressure imposed by the US. Supporting human rights and pressuring the government to acknowledge that any human rights violations will have serious consequences should also be a centerpiece of a new EU strategy on Iran.
Mr. Rufat Ahmadzada is a British-Azerbaijani blogger who writes primarily on the Caucasus and Iran. He has an MA in International Politics and Human Rights from the University of London, UK.