EU is pushing back against US on Iran

EU is pushing back against US on Iran

The European External Action Service (EEAS) has officially announced that the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Federica Mogherini will attend the inauguration ceremony of the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on August 5. As Lobelog writes in the article Is the EU Pushing Back Against Trump on Iran?, Mogherini will visit Iran in her role as chair of the Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) tasked with overseeing the implementation of the agreement. It also says that she will meet with Iranian dignitaries to discuss issues of bilateral and regional relevance.

The timing of this announcement could not be more politically relevant for several reasons. First, the visit will take place in the context of growing signs that US President Donald Trump, against the advice of his national security team, is seeking to subvert the JCPOA, while trying to find a way of allocating the blame for the eventual collapse of the agreement to the Iranians. The latter is essential, since, so the thinking goes, it would rally US allies around Washington’s leadership in order to punish Iran. Since the EU is the most influential supporter of the JCPOA among the US allies, Washington will try to enlist its support as a matter of priority. In the past, as in the example of the Iraq War, such tactics often worked, with Washington dividing the EU and getting some of its members to support its agenda.This time, however, the EU might be preparing to push back.

For one thing, the JCPOA is clearly working, and even the Trump administration, despite its very hostile attitude towards Iran, certified Iran’s compliance with the agreement. Another reason is that the JCPOA is one of the few true diplomatic successes of the EU. It was unanimously endorsed by its member states. Mogherini repeatedly emphasized that the accord belongs to the whole international community. The EU needs engagement with Iran to be able to play a relevant role in the Middle East, since the conflicts in that region are a major source of terrorism and irregular migration that threaten the security and wellbeing of the European societies. Brussels sees the continued validity of the JCPOA and the trust its implementation is engendering as a gateway for deeper cooperation with Iran.

Just as importantly, influential EU member states see the promise of Iranian trade as a boon to their economies. France under the President Emmanuel Macron has taken the lead in denouncing the extraterritorial effects of the new anti-Iran sanctions bill approved by the US. Significantly, the statement of the French foreign ministry on the matter outlined the need for a coordinated European response to this American overreach. Thus it seems that Macron is emerging as Mogherini’s key ally in safeguarding the deal. Other major states with significant economic interests in Iran, like Germany and Italy, will likely follow the French lead.

Finally, since safeguarding the JCPOA is framed as a core European foreign policy interest, it makes it more difficult for some weaker EU states to undermine it. If, for example, the governments of Poland or Hungary, known for their sympathies for Trump and closeness to Israel’s Netanyahu, decide to sabotage the EU common position, it will give more ammunition to increasingly prominent voices advocating for a multi-layered EU, with a closely integrated center of core states and a loosely associated periphery. Weaker states from Central Europe stand the most to lose from such a development, so they must decide whether antagonizing their stronger Western counterparts is really worth it.

The second reason why Mogherini’s announcement is highly relevant is its emphasis on discussion of regional issues with Iran. Those issues will include the prospects of political settlement in Syria and Iraq after the anticipated defeat of the so-called Islamic State, tensions in the Persian Gulf, counterterrorism, relations with Saudi Arabia, and possibly others.

This is in a stark contrast with the attitude of the Trump administration and its regional allies Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Israel, which are working hard to isolate Iran. The fact that the EU, instead of joining these efforts, chooses to talk to Iran on regional issues sends a strong message of its preference for multilateral, inclusive security solutions rather than the tried-and-failed zero-sum-game approach, in which one of the actors is assigned the blame for all the region’s troubles.

It remains to be seen to what extent the EU can muster the strength and determination to push back against Trump’s plot to destroy the JCPOA. Meanwhile, Mogherini’s visit to Iran to attend President Rouhani’s inauguration is a right step at the right time, with, perhaps, more EU dignitaries soon following suit.