Opinion: Time for Europe to get over ‘worst deal ever’

Europe’s insistence on sticking with the Iran nuclear deal rather than backing Washington could ultimately prove self-defeating.

By Con Coughlin, The Gatestone Institute

With tensions rising in the Gulf by the day as a result of Iran’s increasingly provocative conduct, the refusal of the major European powers to back the Trump administration’s determination to confront Iran is looking increasingly untenable.

In the past few months Iran has been blamed for a series of attacks on oil tankers operating in the Gulf, and forced a British Royal Navy warship to intervene when a number of fast patrol boats, operated by the naval division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), attempted to harass a British-owned tanker sailing through the Strait of Hormuz, the main shipping route into the oil-rich Gulf.

Additionally, U.S. military officials at Central Command (CentCom) are currently investigating claims that Iran was behind the mysterious disappearance of the oil tanker Riah while sailing in Iranian waters on the weekend.

Also, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have been blamed for carrying out a number of attacks against targets in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, including a missile attack on a Saudi civilian airport and a drone attack on a key Saudi pipeline.

Iran’s most audacious act so far has been to shoot down an American naval drone conducting a reconnaissance mission in the Strait of Hormuz last month. The strike came within hours of provoking a military response from the Trump administration.

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Meanwhile, as all this has been going on, the ayatollahs have announced that they have resumed work on enriching uranium, a blatant breach of the controversial nuclear accord Tehran signed with the world’s leading powers in 2015.

Yet, while Iran shows no sign of scaling down its aggressive stance towards the U.S. and its allies in the region, Europe continues to cling to the wreckage of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), to give the nuclear deal its proper name, in the misguided belief that the deal remains the best means of preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Europe’s insistence on adopting a different approach to the White House in its dealings with Iran dates back to U.S. President Donald Trump’s original decision last year to withdraw from the JCPOA, after arguing it was the “worst deal ever.”

That, however, is not a viewpoint supported by the European signatories to the deal — Britain, France and Germany. They still wrongly cling to the illusion that the agreement is a triumph of diplomacy and has severely limited Iran’s ability to pursue its ambition of becoming a nuclear-armed power. Under the JCPOA deal, upon its sunset, a mere 10 years away, in 2030, “Iran will be permitted to build an industrial-size nuclear industry” with the ability to build and potentially deliver as many nuclear weapons as it liked.

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Europe’s exercise in futility

To this end the Europeans have actively sought to undermine the Trump administration’s new sanctions regime against Tehran by trying to find ways to continue trading with Iran. The Europeans have even come up with their own trading framework — the so-called Special Purpose Vehicle — which is supposed to enable European companies to continue trading with Iran without attracting punitive measures from the U.S.

In fact the measure has become an exercise in futility, as major European business conglomerates such as Airbus have shown that they are far more interested in protecting their lucrative business ties with the U.S. than dealing with an economic basket case like Iran.

But not even this setback has deterred the Europeans from pursuing their policy of appeasement towards the ayatollahs. The determination of the Europeans to stick with the nuclear deal at all costs was very much in evidence earlier this week during a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Brussels at which they came up with the decidedly bogus notion that Iran’s breaches of the 2015 nuclear deal were not significant and therefore did not require the Europeans to withdraw from the JCPOA.

“Technically all the steps that have been taken, and that we regret have been taken, are reversible,” Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, told EU foreign ministers.

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As none of the signatories to the deal considered the breaches to be significant, they were not prepared to trigger the dispute mechanism which could lead to further sanctions.

“We invite Iran to reverse the steps and go back to full compliance,” were her final words on the matter.

Europe’s insistence on sticking with the nuclear deal, and its refusal to support Washington’s attempts to provide naval protection for international shipping through the Strait of Hormuz, could ultimately prove self-defeating.

Europe is far more dependent than the U.S. on energy supplies from the Gulf, and any further attempts by Iran to disrupt oil and gas supplies from the Gulf would have catastrophic consequences for Europe’s economy.

Con Coughlin is the Telegraph’s defense editor and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute. He is the author of “Khomeini’s Ghost.”