by Elie Obeid

The US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)1an agreement it had brokered back in 20152, has created uncertainty regarding the fate of the deal as the European Union3 battles to salvage what remains. Today the future of the JCPOA hangs in the balance between US sanctions on one side, and a hopeful European Union on the other. Moving forward, although a deal can be of high importance and benefit to both Iran and the European Union, the EU must now seize the opportunity to develop a more comprehensive one. 

In 2015, Iran and the P5+1 group – comprised of China, France, Russia, the UK, the US and Germany – signed the JCPOA, or, as it is commonly known, the Iranian Nuclear Deal4. In 2018, United States President Donald Trump fulfilled one of his campaign promises of withdrawing5 from what he called a bad deal for the US. The period between Trump’s election and the official withdrawal of the US was very eventful, with both Israel and the US accusing Iran of pursuing its nuclear ambitions in secret; with information leaked suggesting that Israel had destroyed Iranian Nuclear Facilities years before the deal was even struck6; and a cyber-attack that had targeted the Iranian Nuclear Program using a virus called Stuxnet7 (which was supposedly only discovered years later following the release of a newer version targeting the centrifuges themselves8).  

The US withdrawal from the nuclear deal and the re-imposition of sanctions, led international companies to review the status of their plans vis-à-vis the Iranian market, thus reversing their course on Iranian Business9. However, in an attempt to protect European companies against US sanctions, the European Union started working on needed legislature to avoid, or even mitigate, US sanctions. The EU then went further, declaring the establishment of a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV)10, which is a mechanism aimed at facilitating financial transactions with Iran under the sanctions.  

For years the European Union adopted a passive approach towards dealing with International Crisis (Syria and the Iranian Nuclear Program being key examples). Today, while there are many valid reasons for them to try to save the nuclear deal, there are also reasons to abolish it and set upon the development of a more comprehensive one. 

First, the US withdrawal from the deal represents a golden opportunity for the Union to develop a policy for the future that showcases its leadership in the free world, while allowing it to safeguard itself from any future US-Russia agreement. It is likely that such a policy will prove useful in the future, especially when it comes to dealing with Russia and even China, taking into account Russia’s geopolitical influence in the region and potential economic collaboration with China. 

Second, the size of the Iranian market represents a once in a lifetime opportunity for a struggling European economy, as investment opportunities across the different sectors of the Iranian Market could prove beneficial in improving the status of the economy in the European Union.  

Third, Iranian gas reserves are among the highest in the world, falling second only to Russia. A new deal with Iran then, could be an alternative to the European Union’s dependence on Russian gas, allowing the EU to avoid suffering a surge in transportation cost, and subsequent higher prices locally. 

On the other hand, the European Union the European Union needs to be very careful not to position itself in an adversary position to the United States. 

Although the Iranian Nuclear Program might pose a big threat to the world especially with Iran’s Regional and Power ambitions, only the Iranian Ballistic Missiles Program poses an equal or even greater threat11 

It is also well known that Iran has been heavily subsidizing Regional and International Militias12 on the EU’s Terrorist list13 through financial and military support, while also being directly involved in notable Regional14 and International15 Crises. 

Iran has carried intelligence and military activities across different countries of the European Union ranging from plotted attacks on Iranian opposition activists, political assassinations and bombing attacks such as the foiled one that targeted a rally organized by Iranian opposition in Paris in June 201816. 

Although Iran agreed and signed the JCPOA, statements by high ranking Iranian officials show a lack of commitment to the agreement. Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani, also recently stated17 that “the Europeans’ opportunity to execute their commitments to our country under the JCPOA, and particularly [with reference to] the special financial channel, has ended.” 

Iran’s relationship with the west can be described as nothing but a love-hate relationship, with Iran always trying to enjoy as many benefits given by foreigners for as long as possible. The JCPOA represents yet another chapter in this story, and although an agreement can be of high importance and benefit to both Iran and the EU, a more comprehensive one is needed. At the end of the day if you are planning to sleep with the devil, at least make sure you do it on your own terms.  

05 February 2019
This text was published in Bullseye issue 75