Europe should pull the plug on Iran nuclear deal

Europe should pull the plug on Iran nuclear deal

From left: Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi and government spokesman Ali Rabiei announce that Iran will begin enriching uranium beyond a 3.67 percent cap set by the 2015 nuclear deal on Sunday, July 7, 2019. (Iranian Presidency/AFP)

The Islamic Republic is blatantly violating the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal. In addition, contrary to the shared international desire to de-escalate tensions in the Middle East, Tehran appears determined to further destabilize the region and ratchet up tensions.

According to an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) spokesperson, Tehran has breached the limit on its stockpile of enriched uranium: “We can confirm that IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano has informed the Board of Governors that the agency verified on July 1 that Iran’s total enriched uranium stockpile exceeded 300 kilograms of UF6 (uranium hexafluoride) enriched up to 3.67 percent U-235 (or the equivalent in different chemical forms).” In fact, the Iranian regime has quadrupled its production in a short period of time.

Meanwhile, Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesperson for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, announced last month that Tehran would restart the process of enriching uranium up to 20 percent in July. And, on Sunday, Tehran confirmed it would imminently start enriching uranium beyond the 3.67 percent threshold. Once Iran hits the 20 percent mark, bomb-grade material would be within relatively easy reach and its breakout time — the amount of time needed to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one nuclear bomb — would become much shorter.

The Iranian regime’s defiance is nuclear blackmail in what is tantamount to a scarcely concealed, increasingly desperate effort to force the Europeans into action. It also comes against a backdrop of surging geopolitical tensions in the region, with Tehran at the center.

On June 13, two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman — the second such attack in the space of a month. In the days following the most recent incident, independent investigations conducted by the US and the UK separately concluded that Iranian forces were responsible for the attack, which not only threatened to ignite conflict in an extremely volatile region but also led to a surge in oil prices.

Beyond the tanker attacks, Iranian-backed Houthi forces continue to fire rockets into Saudi Arabia, frequently targeting Abha Airport, including a June 23 incident that caused one death and 21 injuries.

Iranian support for the Houthis, often overlooked in Western media coverage, is a significant factor in the continuation of the war in Yemen. As documented by the UN, the Houthis are responsible for some of the war’s worst abuses, including the use of child soldiers and torture. A recent World Food Program report also accused the militia of intercepting aid meant for the Yemenis in most need, further stalling the path to peace.

It is time to recognize that the agreement is not ‘comprehensive’ at all. It is a compromise, and bowing to nuclear extortion is a compromise too far

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

In contrast to the White House’s robust stance following the Iranian regime’s announcement regarding its breach of the 300-kilogram limit on enriched uranium, the response from Europeans has been muted. After a meeting with foreign ministers, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Frederica Mogherini said that the bloc’s focus remains on “keeping the agreement in place,” telling reporters that Europe will consider Iran to be “fully compliant” with the nuclear agreement until evidence from the IAEA proves otherwise.

Since President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the JCPOA, the flawed agreement has been kept on life support by the European signatories. Tehran has consistently been pushing for Europe to do more — even more than it is capable of delivering, many would argue.

Europe has been working to implement a special purpose vehicle — known as the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (Instex) — that will allow countries to continue trading with Iran despite US sanctions. Its implementation, however, has been fraught with difficulty. There is no doubt that the latest announcements from Tehran will trigger European officials into making further hasty efforts to ensure that Instex is viable and can help to protect the Iranian economy.

This will be precisely the response Tehran was hoping for. Cowing to demands to do more in order to keep the deal alive, while Iran is clearly doing less, is making Europe look foolish — a sentiment echoed last week by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

Iran’s decision to continue breaching the JCPOA marks a new chapter in an extremely protracted and dangerous game of brinkmanship between Iran and the other signatories to the agreement. This demands a strong response from Europe. By surrendering to Iran’s extortion attempts, Europe will fail to curb Tehran’s regional and global ambitions and will, in effect, be giving it the green light to continue its march toward becoming a destructive nuclear force.

There may still be some in Europe who cannot see beyond what they consider to be the value in the JCPOA, but it is time to recognize that the agreement is not “comprehensive” at all. It is a compromise, and bowing to nuclear extortion is a compromise too far.

Europe must now focus its diplomatic efforts on countering the clear and present threat that aggressive Iranian behavior across the region poses. It is time for Europe to move its efforts away from keeping the failing deal alive. It is time for Europe to switch off the life support for the JCPOA.

• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh

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