Iran’s security threat must be curtailed before trade talks
A battle is brewing not only between the United States and Iran, but also across the Atlantic. In response to the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal, the EU is marshalling efforts to salvage as much of the agreement as possible, working overtime to counter the effects of reimposed US sanctions. The EU’s dispute with the Trump administration has exposed the underlying reasons behind the deal: Promoting EU business interests in exchange for allowing Iran a free hand in the region.
That became clear on Tuesday in Brussels, when Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign affairs chief, together with the foreign ministers of France, Germany and the UK, met with their Iranian counterpart Mohammed Javad Zarif. The ministers agreed to conduct a study, not on the security aspects of the deal, but to identify ways to help European companies continue to do business in Iran and avoid American sanctions. The EU and Iran are trying to maintain oil shipments, minimize transport disruptions, keep banking channels open to Iran, and help protect European companies from the reach of US sanctions.
While couching their intentions in security terms, the real purpose has become clearly economic: To help European companies do business in Iran despite its gross violations of human rights, support for terrorism, ballistic missile program, and its continued destabilization of the Middle East. The fact that Iran is the principal force behind the mayhem in Syria has not figured in the ministers’ calculus, despite the spillover effects of the Syrian conflict on Europe itself.
There is no mention of ballistic missiles, terrorism or anything other than economics in the statements coming after the meeting in Brussels.
Despite evidence to the contrary, EU officials have claimed that ending the nuclear deal would be a “major threat” to security in the Middle East. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Wednesday: “We don’t want to see this agreement destroyed because it is important for maintaining peace in the region and also for peace in the whole world. Ending this agreement would be a major threat to security in this region.”
In fact, the opposite is true. The deal has contributed significantly to the instability of the Middle East. Since the deal was signed, Iran has expanded its ballistic missile program and increased its support for terrorism. Almost from day one after the deal was signed, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps increased its activities in the Gulf, Syria and elsewhere. Much of the funds released by the deal are believed to have made their way to IRGC coffers.
While couching their intentions in security terms, the real purpose has become clearly economic.
Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg
The real purpose of EU efforts appears to be rather mercantile. European Commission officials have made no pretense about this, even threatening to take legal action (using the “blocking statute,” for example) to protect EU companies doing business in Iran. Juncker himself hinted at this when he said “we have the means and resources and we will use them.” The EC is working on “concrete, practical solutions” to protect EU “economic operations,” including “applying our blocking statute,” European Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said this week.
Mogherini’s spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic indicated similar objectives, saying: “We are exploring options to protect the economic operators from the… effects of reimposed sanctions,” adding: “We will work with all the partners to address possible negative impacts on economic operators of any reimposition of sanctions by the US.”
On the other hand, the US and its GCC partners have focused on security and put teeth to their opposition to the deal. Immediately after the US withdrawal, the US Department of Treasury announced new targeted sanctions against Iranian officials and proxies.
Last week, the Terrorism Financing Targeting Center met in Kuwait and agreed to a number of classified measures to disrupt terrorism financing in the region. The center was established following the GCC-US summit in Riyadh last year. During the days following the Kuwait meeting, in which the seven founding members — UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and the US — took part, new sanctions were announced against Hezbollah officials and affiliated entities, including its chief Hassan Nasrallah, his deputy Naim Qassem and three members of its “Shura” council. They also targeted several other operatives and businesses.
Then, on Tuesday, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control imposed sanctions on the governor and a senior official of the Central Bank of Iran, the chairman of the Iraq-based Al-Bilad Islamic Bank, and a key Hezbollah official, all of whom it says moved millions of dollars to Hezbollah on behalf of the IRGC. US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said: “Iran’s Central Bank governor covertly funneled millions of dollars on behalf of the IRGC-QF through Iraq-based Al-Bilad Islamic Bank to enrich and support the violent and radical agenda of Hezbollah. It is appalling, but not surprising, that Iran’s senior-most banking official would conspire with the IRGC-QF to facilitate funding of terror groups like Hezbollah, and it undermines any credibility he could claim in protecting the integrity of the institution as a central bank governor.”
The lines of battle are clear between the two sides of the Atlantic, as they are between the two shores of the Gulf, but a candid discussion between the US, the GCC and the EU has to take place. Any approach to Iran should not be based on short-term trade interests, but on security terms. To be taken seriously by its neighbors and the international community, Iran has to be ready to abandon its military nuclear ambitions for good, limit its ballistic missile program, tame its rogue Revolutionary Guards, and end support for terrorism. Without a clear commitment to following international norms, it is extremely risky to enter into any deal with Iran.
Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg is the GCC Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs & Negotiation, and a columnist for Arab News. The views expressed in this piece are personal and do not necessarily represent GCC views. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @abuhamad1