The European countries must shoulder their responsibilities and own up to the consequences of their policies in the Middle East, by first acknowledging them and second by taking the positions of US President Donald Trump very seriously, without condescension and belittlement. European unity in resisting Trump’s approach on Iran will not serve the cause of the nuclear deal signed by Germany, Britain, France, Russia, and China in addition to the US, but rather, it will threaten the nuclear agreement. The self-justifying policies that the Europeans now favor are wrong and dangerous as they place Europe in the position of automatic apology on behalf of the Iranian regime, its domestic actions, its regional incursions, and its missile programs. Continuing to shirk the historic responsibility surrounding the nuclear deal and its regional implications could lead to the abandonment of the agreement, especially if Europe continues to dismiss Trump. The US president has put the European leaders on notice for the next four months, to pressure them to reassess and rectify their attitudes that enable the policies of the Islamic Republic. It is important for the Europeans to see this period as a test of their goodwill but also as an opportunity to put serious pressure on decision-makers in Iran to go beyond merely improving their behavior. The Europeans must conduct an honest review of their record to safeguard their own long-term interests and reclaim some of their lost credibility.
The onus is on the European Union's top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, who also serves as the coordinator of the Joint Commission that supervises the monitoring of the implementation of the Iran deal signed by the Security Council permanent five and Germany (P5+1). Her consultations in Europe must not start with the principle of ‘responding’ to Trump, who has called on the Europeans to address the “serious flaws” in the agreement and stop turning a blind eye to Iran’s incursions in the Arab geography. Indeed, the argument that the nuclear and regional issues must be separated has been proven to be invalid and it exposes Europe’s duplicity.
Before Mogherini, her predecessor Catherine Ashton had fallen in in love with the smiling diplomacy of Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, and was one of the European officials who were most enthusiastic about concluding the nuclear deal with Iran. This is while noting that US former President Barack Obama and his team were leading the camp that was ready to meet Iran’s demands, led by separating Tehran’s regional policies from the nuclear negotiations.
In truth, the Obama administration, alongside the governments of Britain, Germany, France, Russia, and China, had sacrificed the principle of non-interference in the affairs of other states by legitimizing Iran’s interventions outside its borders. The Europeans and the ‘Obamists’ had caved to Iran’s insistence on invalidating UN Security Council resolutions that included clauses prohibiting Iran under Chapter VII of the Charter from exporting weapons and munitions and arming and funding militias outside its borders.
The Europeans and the Obama administration had invalidated those Security Council resolutions, and legitimized Iran’s intervention in Syria through the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), and other militias and proxies. To pretend otherwise is to bury one’s head in the sand. They gave Tehran legitimacy and funding when they rewarded Iran with the invalidation of UN resolutions imposing military prohibitions and economic sanctions. It was the gift of the century that the Europeans helped offer to the Islamic Republic, in the name of safeguarding the nuclear deal and separating it from Iran’s interventions in the Arab countries led by Syria. There is no need for Europeans to cry over the tragedy in Syria, which most certainly was one of the victims of the nuclear deal. There is no point in hiding behind demands like changing Iran’s behavior, when the language of commercial interests supersede all else and expose Europe’s hypocrisy.
The P5+1 countries have prevented the Arab Gulf countries from examining the content of the negotiations and accords in the deal, which those countries claimed were limited to the nuclear issue. These countries, especially the European powers, had refused to allow Saudi Arabia’s request to be an observer or at the very least to be briefed on negotiations with neighboring Iran.
Iranian diplomacy succeeded in imposing the separation between regional and nuclear issues on the P5+1 group, at a time when Iran has been actively interfering militarily and politically in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon. In truth, however, appeasing Iran was not out of stupidity on the part of the US and Europe, it was a deliberate policy.
Donald Trump is now telling the Europeans: Fix what you have broken, and one of the key alterations he is demanding involves Iran’s interventions in the Arab countries. Obama’s policy was based on embracing and making concessions to Iran, to entice it to accept the nuclear deal. At the time, the Obama administration acknowledged that it had agreed reluctantly to some clauses in the deal, because there was no other way. Now, Trump has sought different strategies and alliances than the ones Obama had adopted, and Trump has made it clear what he does not accept to continue under the pretext of the deal: First, Iran’s development of ballistic missiles which the US president insists fall under the spirit of the deal, while the Europeans, Russia, and China insist on isolating this issue. And second, Iran’s expansionism in the region which Trump does not want to be separate from the nuclear issue.
Donald Trump wants Europe to stop pretending that safeguarding the nuclear deal requires turning a blind eye to Iran’s interventions. He is putting the ball in the European court, and tackling the issue from the standpoint of relations among allies. Trump is saying that the nuclear deal has given Iran a carte blanche to interfere in Arab countries with not only impunity but with rewards from the deal. Trump wants the Europeans to agree immediately to sanctions on the regime in Tehran to rein in its regional transgressions. Such sanctions have nothing to do with those that had been suspended under the deal. But Trump is saying he will not tear the deal if Germany, France, and Britain agree sanctions meant to curb Tehran’s regional appetite.
The danger in European positions lies in the possibility that their lenience with Iran and belittlement of Trump could push him to abandon the nuclear deal. Such a development would not serve the goal of preserving the agreement, would not help US-European relations, and would only worsen the situation in the Middle East.
Europe’s treatment of the nuclear deal as sacred as led it to issue weak positions on the protests in Iran. This again highlighted Europe’s duplicity, given the European governments’ claims about respecting freedoms, as all that the European leaders could think about was how to prevent protests from undermining the nuclear deal.
Europe needs to understand the impact of Iran’s regional actions and oppose Iran’s incursions through its proxies. Europe is fully aware that there is a flaw and loopholes in the implementation of sanctions on Iran, and failing to address this will give ammunition to the US president.
Europe is aware of the accusations that it places commercial deals above basic principles, and that pushing Trump to deliver on his vows and threats would cost it and expose it. But Europe has an opportunity to salvage the nuclear deal if it listens carefully to what Trump is saying. Otherwise, it is risking more than it can imagine. It is time for Europe to shoulder its historic responsibilities and stop pretending to be unaware.