Europe needs to back Iran nuclear deal & stop kowtowing to US

Iran is right. The way to save the international nuclear accord on Iran is for all parties to honor it and to implement normal trading relations. That would also permit de-escalation of dangerous war tensions in the Gulf.

Significantly, Iran’s position on resolving the impasse is supported by Russia and China. Their take is that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed four years ago this month by world powers, has been broken by President Trump’s bad-faith abrogation of the accord and his administration’s re-imposition of sanctions on Iran.

As China’s foreign ministry’s spokesperson noted this week, it is the US that broke it and it must fix it.

The problem is the European Union says it supports the accord but has shown little “investment” by pushing ahead with sanctions relief for Iran, as stipulated by the treaty. The EU has set up a bartering mechanism, known as INSTEX, designed to circumvent US sanctions. But there is little sign that the EU’s mechanism is substantially working towards affording Iran the normalization of trading relations that it is entitled to.

When EU foreign ministers met earlier this week “to save the nuclear deal,” their response was more like sitting on the fence than giving the accord the full commitment they are obliged to give.

The ministers admitted Iran was not in significant breach of the JCPOA due to its recent moves to surpass limits on enrichment of uranium. The deal was “still alive”, they said. However, the onus was put on Iran to “go back to full compliance” by reversing steps to increase stockpiles of enriched uranium.

This European focus is misplaced and counterproductive. The EU should instead be calling out the Trump administration for its unilateral violation of the nuclear accord, an accord which was endorsed by the UN security council in 2015.

The continual claims made by Trump of “Iran secretly trying to build nuclear weapons” are worthless, unsubstantiated muck-raking. The relentless, hostile posturing by Washington towards Iran and the ramping up of military forces in the Gulf are nothing short of aggression which has led to the present precipice of war.

Rather than putting the responsibility on Iran to “comply” with the JCPOA, the EU should be denouncing Trump’s reckless policies and, secondly, living up to its side of the bargain to implement normal relations with Tehran.

Four years of Iran abiding by the JCPOA’s commitments to curb uranium enrichment, as verified by numerous UN inspections, have not produced any concrete sanctions relief from the EU. Indeed, several major initial investment plans by European businesses in Iran have been shelved as a result of threats from the Trump administration of “secondary sanctions.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif nailed it when he rebuked the EU for “paying lip service” to the nuclear deal but not investing in it through practical commitments.

Admittedly, the Europeans are in a bind from the fact that the US dollar is the principal currency for international commerce, as well as the dominance of Washington in controlling global financial transfers. Nevertheless, the EU’s half-hearted approach to the JCPOA is inexcusable. Their lame commitment is in contrast to that of Russia and China, which have both pushed ahead to normalize trade with Iran.

Something else is going on here. It is the EU’s cowardly deference to Washington’s bullying policies.

There is a close analogy to the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty between the US and Russia for nuclear arms control in Europe. That landmark Cold War-era treaty, signed in 1987, is due to expire soon. It was the Trump administration that decided to walk away from it, citing unsubstantiated claims of Russia breaching it. Again, instead of condemning the US for its rash breaking of a crucial arms control accord, the European powers have tended to lay the blame for the impasse on Moscow.

The same wonky deference to Washington regarding the INF and US undermining of global security is evident in the way the EU has failed to back the JCPOA and Iran’s hard-won right to be treated as a sovereign nation.

Moreover, there is another, more sinister, underlying mindset among European politicians for why the nuclear deal is failing. That mindset is a tacit attitude of viewing Iran as a “pariah.”

Of course Trump and his Middle East allies are engrained with an explicit denigration of Iran. Trump calls Tehran a “terrorist regime” seeking “nuclear extortion” of the world. Israel’s Netanyahu compares Iran with “Nazi Germany” and this week accused Europe of “appeasement” as in the 1930s towards Hitler.

Such anti-Iran vitriol is off the wall in its irrational slander. The hypocrisy is nauseating.

But the Europeans seem to share a similar pejorative perception of Iran as some kind of rogue state.

European ministers repeatedly mentioned this week that their putative support for the nuclear accord was important for “stopping Iran getting a nuclear bomb.”

The EU in joint statement urged Iran to respect JCPOA and “never acquire or develop a nuclear weapon” – implying Iran could still harbor ambitions for possessing such a weapon in the future.

Britain’s top diplomat Jeremy Hunt –who has conspicuously backed Trump’s hardline military stance raising tensions– commented that the nuclear agreement was a “closing window” and suggested that Iran is “a year away from developing a nuclear bomb” – again implying Iranian perfidy about going for the bomb.

But Iran insists that it does not have a nuclear weapons program. It was abandoned years ago.

The country’s leadership has repeatedly stated that Iran has no intention of acquiring such weapons. There is no evidence whatsoever implicating Iran, whose right to civilian nuclear energy is legally enshrined.

Beneath the rhetorical surface there is a spurious presumption among European politicians that Iran is not trustworthy. That it is somehow a renegade state with malign designs. This buys into the unhinged American propaganda demonizing Iran.

What the Europeans don’t get is that they are signatories to an international accord with Iran and have obligations to the rest of the world to get on with implementing it. That means giving Iran the full sanctions relief it deserves for its proven compliance, and treating Iran with respect as a mutual partner. The Europeans so far have not delivered on their stated commitments because they are pathetically servile to Washington’s bullying; and also because they don’t have the integrity to give Iran the equal respect it deserves.

When it comes down to it, the European powers are hampered by the same arrogance of superiority towards Iran as Washington demonstrates – albeit with a veneer of pseudo politeness.

As things stand: Europe is not capable of “saving” the nuclear accord by showing sufficient backbone. Iran is unlikely to derive confidence that its commitment to the deal is being reciprocated by a major party to the accord, and will therefore continue enriching uranium, as it is legally entitled to do if other parties are not respecting their side of the bargain. That bodes for increasing tensions in the dangerous stand-off with the US.

Iran has repeatedly said it is open to negotiations as long as all parties, including the US, abide by the nuclear deal. You can’t be much fairer or more reasonable than that. The EU needs to step up to the plate.

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