Will Iran risk losing European support?

Wednesday، August 09، 2017
Will Iran risk losing European support?

Since Donald Trump’s administration has threatened to withdraw from the nuclear deal, Iran moved towards further rapprochement with European countries, particularly the states, which participated in the negotiations of the nuclear agreement. Iran aims to achieve two main objectives from this convergence. First, to send messages that the deal has the backing of various international powers, which seek to promote stability in the Middle East and to resolve the crisis that spanned more than 10 years and increased the prospects of military confrontation in the region.

Perhaps Iran is also preparing for what is beyond that. Apparently, it did not exclude the possible failure of the agreement and returning its nuclear dossier to the UN Security Council. Accordingly, it sought to improve relations with major powers, particularly those having veto power in the Security Council to reduce the probabilities of exposure to more robust international sanctions, similar to those imposed before concluding the nuclear deal. 

More precisely, Iran believes that the nuclear accord has reinforced its relations with many international powers, particularly European countries, which did not hide their ambitions of boosting economic cooperation with Tehran. According to Tehran’s vision, such development represents an important variable that will contribute to identifying policy directions to be adopted by those states if the worst-case scenario of the agreement’s failure happened. This means that their positions may differ from those adopted before reaching the agreement, when those states supported actions taken by successive American administrations towards Iran.

Second, Iran seeks to push those countries to intervene and pressure the US administration to deviate it from hurdling the agreement. They will further ensure Iran’s commitment, particularly with regard to reducing uranium enrichment and limiting the use of first-class centrifuges. 

This seemed to be relatively effective, as some European officials sought to persuade the American administration of the need to support the nuclear agreement, based on the reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency, that Iran is still technically committed to its terms. 

This may be one of the objectives of the European tour by the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif, to Germany and Italy, from 26 to 28 June 2017, where Zarif’s talks with officials in Rome and Berlin focused on the role of the EU in supporting the nuclear agreement during the next phase.

Sudden Change

However, the Iranian actions in response to the American sanctions may contribute to changing the European stance towards exercising more pressure on Iran, to urge it not to breach Security Council resolution 2231, issued one week after reaching agreement. 

It is evident that some European countries, such as France, Britain and Germany, which formed what was called the “European troika” that led the negotiations with Iran before establishing the “P5 + 1” group in 2006, began to converge with the American vision regarding the ongoing Iranian efforts to develop ballistic missiles.

After Iran conducted a test to launch missiles capable of carrying satellite, on July 27, 2017, the US rushed to impose new sanctions against six Iranian companies affiliated with “Shahid Hemet Industrial Group,” which played a key role in the ballistic missile program development. This occured a few hours after the US Senate vote on new sanctions that included Iran, Russia and North Korea. Moreover, the US issued a joint statement with France, Britain and Germany, condemning the new missile test as such tests are not consistent with the Security Council resolution 2231, which lifted the international sanctions imposed on Iran. The statement further described Iran’s behavior as “provocative and destabilizing.”

Message for Tehran 

The three European countries’ keenness to take part in a joint statement with the US sends a message to Iran that it cannot count on European support for its position regarding the American escalation. The states stressed that it will not support Iran, as long as it is still deliberately violating the accord through claiming that its ballistic missiles, which are prohibited by the Security Council resolution, are not intended to carry nuclear weapons. 

In other words, those countries no longer perceive that the risks threatening the nuclear deal as originating only from Washington only, but from Tehran as well. This is attributed to the Iranian hardline policy, specifically adopted by the radical organizations in the regime, such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which exploit any opportunities to take provocative measures to hinder the implementation of the agreement. Hence, those countries see a need to put pressure on Tehran to dissuade it from taking such measures.

Bleak Prospects

Nevertheless, it does not seem that Iran will easily yield to those pressures. Although these pressures began to cause confusion in its political calculations, it will apparently take more escalatory actions within the next stage. 

It could be argued that what reinforces such conclusion is the eagerness of President Hassan Rouhani, in the current period, to alleviate the differences with the IRGC, and other entities. This was evident in his meeting with senior officials in the IRGC, on July 24, 2017, including Mohamed Ali Jafari, Commander of the Guards, Qasim Sulimani, Commander of the Quds Force, and Amir Ali Hajizadeh, Commander of the Aerospace Force responsible for the ballistic missile program. In the meeting, Rouhani was keen to reassure them that his government will support their missions. 

It seems that this move, which may be taken by a green light from the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, was conducted to promote Rouhani’s cabinet entrustment before the beginning of his second term. He further aimed to halt the criticism campaign, launched by the conservative fundamentalists, demanding the removal of the nuclear dossier from the government and handing it over to a committee of experts. Hossein Shariatmadari, editor-in-chief of Kayhan (Dunya) newspaper, launched this campaign claiming that the government has not been successful in managing this dossier with international powers, and giving examples of the agreement’s setbacks during the past years.

Certainly, this issue is inseparable from the current debate over what could be called the Supreme Leader’s “share” in the government. It seems that Khamenei himself permitted such controversy to send a message across the Iranian public, and particularly to Rouhani, that he cannot pursue his domestic and foreign policies, even if he tried, like former Presidents, under the strong clout of the Supreme Leader and radical organizations in the regime.

Keywords: IranUSEUSanctions