Despite severe repression of freedom of speech online, Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei decided to take to Twitter to share his thoughts - in Trumpian style.
Now that President Trump has pulled the plug on the agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, all eyes are on Europe. The nuclear deal is a rare diplomatic success which includes China and Russia. Verifying the nuclear program of the Islamic Republic is worth a lot to European governments, and rightly so. Increasing unrest in the Middle East would be a disaster for its people and can also cause new flows of refugees.
Nevertheless, European leaders should not let themselves be sided with the Iranians. It is of the essence to defend our own interests - independently from either Trump or Khamenei. Our interests are to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon, to avoid further unrest in the Middle East, to self-determine whether and how sanctions apply to European companies, and to keep setting a broad agenda, which prioritises human rights.
Yesterday, European ministers of Foreign Affairs met in Brussels during the Foreign Affairs Council. Now that American sanctions are being reinstated, the Iranians are demanding measures to compensate the damage to their economy. Tehran has pressed the Europeans to come up with satisfactory countermeasures as soon as this Thursday. Otherwise Tehran will, according to officials, “restart its uranium enrichment program at an industrial level.” This would definitely blow up the deal.
Europe cannot guarantee full compensation for the economic impact of the US pull-out. That would be the world upside down. But after a unanimous decision by government leaders in Sofia on May 18, president Juncker did announce that the Commission will launch a mechanism that protects European companies against American sanctions when they reach across European borders. This should reassure European companies to keep doing business in Iran. The “Blocking Statute” forbids European companies from complying with US extraterritorial sanctions and nullifies the effect of any US court judgements. That it has come to this shows the sad state of transatlantic relations - and only to the benefit of the Iranian rulers, who love to discredit the West and prefer to see it fail.
European leaders, as opposed to president Trump, do take their responsibility and try to uphold the deal. This does not only underscore our credibility, but also gives us the opportunity to keep pressing Tehran on other important issues.
One of them being the grave human rights violations in Iran. Later this week the European Parliament will adopt a resolution on EU citizens with a dual nationality who are imprisoned in Iran, without a fair trial. They are used by the regime as political pons. With regards to press freedom and women’s rights the situation is deplorable as well, as we have seen with the arrests of leaders in the anti-hijab protests earlier this year. The list of our concerns is endlessly long.
On top of human rights, European leaders must address the aggressive political and military role Iran plays in the region. The EU should not shy away from introducing new sanctions for Iranian aggression in Syria. In March, the European Parliament reiterated its call for targeted sanctions for Iranians responsible for attacks on innocent Syrian civilians.
The perverse effect of the American withdrawal from the nuclear agreement, is that saving the deal now overshadows other topics, and threatens to ‘push’ European leaders to Iran’s camp. Both of these developments do not serve the European interest. Hopefully, European leaders will keep the Iranian people in mind, as they continue to seek solutions. The population after all, is heading towards an uncertain future, and should find a partner in Europe that fights for their rights and freedoms.