One month after ship seizure, EU still hasn’t stopped trying to appease Iran
Iran’s unlawful seizure and continuing detention of a British tanker demonstrate again the danger Tehran poses to Europe and the entire world — and the failure of the European Union’s attempts to appease the Islamic Republic and turn it from a rogue regime into a responsible state actor.
One month after Iran’s ship grab on July 19, the EU still has not joined the U.S. in pressuring Tehran to stop its menacing behavior. The EU’s continued opposition to sanctions, unwillingness to participate in a multinational maritime-security mission, and selection for its new foreign-policy chief of an Iran apologist signal that Brussels intends to continue trying to placate Tehran instead of combating the Iranian threat.
In recent months, Iran’s malign activities have intensified on multiple fronts. It shot down a U.S. drone in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz. It attacked two commercial oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis have increased their launches of missiles and drones at Saudi Arabia, and reportedly shot down a U.S. drone on Aug. 20. And Iran arrested and denied consular access to French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah and detained British-Iranian scholar Kameel Ahmady the latest in a number of European citizens and residents Tehran holds hostage.
Most ominously, Iran is accelerating its advance toward nuclear-weapons capability. The regime is openly violating the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), by stockpiling excessive low-enriched uranium and enriching uranium to prohibited levels. And Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has tweeted that “Iran will continue the process of cutting down on its #JCPOA commitments.”
Tehran is taking these destabilizing steps in order to extract economic concessions from Europe and America. The Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign is wrecking Iran’s economy, which is contracting for the second consecutive year. Inflation is approaching 40 percent and Tehran’s oil revenues have dropped by 90 percent.
This gives the EU, U.S., and other responsible nations a golden opportunity to compel Iran to agree to a better deal than the JCPOA, one that permanently prevents Iran from getting nuclear weapons and ends the totality of its other threatening behavior in exchange for comprehensive sanctions relief.
To date, however, the EU has given in to Tehran’s extortion by attempting to establish a special mechanism to evade U.S. sanctions and facilitate lucrative business deals for European companies with Iran — commerce that would enrich the very regime holding Europeans hostage and seizing European ships.
The Europeans, the British aside, also have not signed up for an international naval mission to protect ships transiting the Strait of Hormuz. Such inaction in the face of Iranian piracy signals weakness to the mullahs and shows that the EU is unwilling to assume the mantle of global leadership that it claims to exercise.
The EU’s choice for its next foreign policy chief also does not inspire hope that Brussels will get tough with Tehran. Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell has spoken positively about the Islamic Republic and minimized the threat Iran poses while criticizing those who seek to pressure the regime.
Last February, on the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, Borrell tweeted about improvements in literacy and women’s higher education in Iran in the past four decades neglecting to mention the regime’s 40-year record of sponsoring international terrorism, of committing human rights abuses against the Iranian people, and of destabilizing the Middle East.
Borrell lashed out at the U.S. for withdrawing from the Iran deal, instead of working with the Trump Administration to achieve a better one. He criticized the U.S. government for its “obsession” with Iran, but nonchalantly remarked that “Iran wants to wipe out Israel; nothing new about that. You have to live with it.”
And when British authorities in Gibraltar detained an Iranian ship that was carrying crude to Syria in contravention of EU sanctions, Borrell ignored Tehran’s shipment. He focused instead on Spanish sovereignty concerns, and claimed the U.K. only seized the Iranian tanker because the U.S. requested it. By contrast, Borrell has not said a word publicly — to my knowledge — about Iran’s capture of the British tanker. As Iran escalates its aggression, Borrell has shown no interest in countering it.
The EU faces a choice: Will it continue prioritizing business that bankrolls Iran, or join the U.S. in seeking to compel the regime to cease its increasingly dangerous conduct?
Will it proceed with its nomination of a foreign minister who focuses his fire on Iran’s critics rather than on the Islamic Republic itself, or reconsider and pick a diplomat who takes the Iranian danger seriously?
The answers to these questions will determine whether Iran’s capture of the British tanker will be a preview of coming attractions, or a catalyst for international pressure that reduces the Iranian threat.
Alan Goldsmith works for United Against Nuclear Iran and the Counter Extremism Project. He formerly served as a professional staff member for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Follow him on Twitter @AlanGoldsmith.
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