How Europe can crank up the pressure on Iranian regime

How Europe can crank up the pressure on Iranian regime

Protestors take part in a rally in Lyon, France against the Iranian regime: Jan. 8, 2023 (File/AFP)
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The Iranian regime’s defiance, oppression and aggression are on the rise domestically, regionally and globally.

Domestically speaking, the theocratic establishment has ratcheted up its human rights violations in order to put an end to the ongoing protests and ensure the survival of the regime.

The regime is resorting to executions, torture and oppression in order to impose fear in the society. Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, Diana Eltahawy, last week pointed to the regime’s egregious suppression, saying: “It is abhorrent that the Iranian authorities persist in their state-sanctioned killing spree as they desperately seek to end the protests and cling to power by instilling fear among the public. The arbitrary executions of Mohammed Mehdi Karami and Seyed Mohammed Hosseini, just days after their death sentences were upheld, reveal how the Iranian authorities continue to wield the death penalty as a weapon of repression, and serve as a chilling reminder that scores of others remain at risk of execution.”

When it comes to the region, the Iranian regime continues to fund, sponsor and support militia and proxy groups that advance Tehran’s ideological and geopolitical interests and revolutionary ideals.

And on the global level, the Islamic Republic persists with its nuclear defiance as well as support for terror cells. As UK Member of Parliament Tim Loughton warned last week: “The trouble is Iran plays out its terrorism through third party players in Yemen with the Houthis and others and we need to have a much better international coalition in challenging Iran. Obviously, that’s been weakened over recent years by the fallout between the Trump administration and other Western nations about the sanctions (in response to) the nuclear program. I think Iran has taken advantage of that disunity and that vacuum.”

The EU has at its disposal multifaceted leverage against the regime, which can be enacted at any time

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Nevertheless, it is important to point out that the EU can play a critical role in countering the Iranian regime and making the US sanctions against it more effective.

The EU has at its disposal multifaceted leverage against the Iranian regime, which can be enacted at any time in order to hold the Iranian leaders accountable for their human rights violations and to pressure them into changing their destructive behavior at home and abroad.

First of all, unlike the US, which pulled out of the nuclear deal under the Trump administration, EU members France and Germany, plus the UK, still have the power to trigger the process that would lead to the reimposition of UN Security Council sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Based on the text of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, any signatory party can trigger a 30-day countdown to a “snapback” that would restore all UN sanctions on Iran, including an arms embargo, if Tehran is found to be failing to meet its obligations.

Without a doubt, reinstating the UN sanctions would impose significant pressure on the Iranian leaders’ financial and military dealings.

Furthermore, the European countries can also unilaterally level new sanctions on Iran’s energy industry, specifically oil, as well as the financial, shipping, construction and arms sectors.

The second aspect of the EU’s leverage against the Iranian regime is linked to its economic ties with Tehran. Unfortunately, some of Iran’s major trade partners are EU member countries. “Iran and the European Union’s 27 member states traded €4.36 billion worth of goods during the first 10 months of 2022, registering a 14.28 percent rise compared with last year’s corresponding period,” Mehr News Agency reported last month.

It added that “Germany was the top trading partner of Iran in the EU region during the period, as the two countries exchanged over €1.6 billion worth of goods, 15.44 percent more than in a similar period of the year before. Italy came next with €555.39 million worth of trade with Iran to register an 11.14 percent year-on-year rise … The Netherlands with €351.94 million (down 10.76 percent) and Spain with €296.06 million (up 13.12 percent) were Iran’s other major European trade partners.”

If European countries made a collective decision to halt their trade dealings with Iran due to the regime’s involvement in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, its support for militia and terror groups and its egregious and brutal suppression of protesters, Iran’s leaders would be forced to recalculate their ideological and political priorities in order to survive.

Finally, employing diplomatic pressure against the Iranian regime is critical as well. The EU ought to go beyond verbal condemnation and even symbolic sanctions. This means that the European nations could take a step further and recall their representatives from Tehran and sever diplomatic ties with Iran until the regime changes its destructive behavior at home and abroad. These steps are critical in order to hold the regime accountable for its crimes.

  • Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh


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