The unfriendly relationship between the US and Iran is undoubtedly a nightmare for the neighboring Europe. Europe, which is trapped between the US and Iran, is anxious and concerned about the dispute between the US and Iran. Although EU has put into a lot of diplomatic efforts to salvage the crisis, little effect has been achieved so far, which has highlighted the serious absence of independence in the EU’s diplomacy.
The core of the whole incident is the Iran nuclear deal reached in 2015. It was the EU’s symbolic achievements in diplomacy, entrusted with the definition of EU’s security and economic interests. But the security architecture just crashed due to the US pullout from the Iran nuclear deal. For Europe, “control your own fate” is easier said than done. At least for the time being, the EU must see what the US wants.
So far, it is yet to see EU has demonstrated any firm will, clear direction nor effective unified action to resolve this crisis. Last week’s EU Foreign Ministers’ meeting did not announce any specific measures except calling for the “maximum restraint” from the US side and for Iran to comply with the deal.
Omid Nouripour, a member of the German Bundestag and an expert on Iran, anxiously warned that the situation is grim and actions must be taken. He even asked the German foreign minister to visit Tehran immediately for discussing countermeasures. However, those who oppose this motion believe that EU has no means to deal with US sanctions against Iran. At this time, the German foreign minister’s visit would be fruitless and become a laughingstock. And for Germany, taking an overly active role on the Iran nuclear issue will appear to act in their self-interests.
Observers have noticed the French foreign minister stressed that the EU should jointly discuss countermeasures to preserve the Iran nuclear agreement. “Unity within the EU is very important,” his words are meaningful. Somehow, it is hard to conceal the embarrassment of Europeans on the Iran nuclear issue.
To preserve the Iran nuclear deal means tangible economic benefits for Germany and the EU. Iran was once one of Europe’s most important economic and trade partners, but the US-led sanctions have greatly hindered this relationship, squeezing Iran’s economy while also bringing losses to Europe. Therefore, Germany and Europe have been actively working on an early resolution to bring the Iran nuclear issue to an end. The signing of the Iran nuclear agreement and the lifting sanctions against Iran have brought “gold rush” to Europe. German media had estimated that Iran would become the biggest export market for Germany in the future. According to statistics, the trade volume between Iran and the EU has tripled in the short term since the lifting economic sanctions.
The Iran nuclear deal also maintains the security interests of the EU. If the agreement goes to bankruptcy and Iran resumes its nuclear program, a nuclear proliferation and nuclear crisis in the Middle East would be triggered. A former senior defense official in Europe predicted that Iran’s involvement in the war meant that the vast area from Afghanistan to North Africa would be thrown into chaos, potentially causing a humanitarian crisis for nearly 20 million refugees. Europe, which is already severely affected by the refugees, would not be able to cope with the rush of new refugees.
The senior official also pointed out that Europe played the role of “hostage” in the midst of the US-Iran standoff. The US used economic means to hit Iran with EU also suffering from the sanctions, forcing EU to follow the US to form an “Atlantic United Front” against Iran. In return, Iran uses security measures to force the EU to join hands with Iran to deal with US sanctions. Iran wants to trade its nuclear program for economic development, otherwise it will restart its nuclear program, for which the EU will have to face the consequences.
Although the US has withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal, Iran still complies with its obligations. But other than calling on Iran to comply with the nuclear deal, the EU has continuously pleaded to the US. This has not stopped the US issuing new sanctions on Iran and sending the gunboats to the gate of Iran. It looks like the more the EU is pleading the more the US is pushing.
For now, it is even hard to figure out who is “the US” anymore: the Obama administration encouraged the EU to participate in Iran nuclear deal while the current Trump administration is forcing the EU out. The international law respected by the EU and the rest of the world is only a script to the US that can be edited as they wish.
For the EU diplomacy, there is still a long way to go if it wants to take control of its own destiny without depending on the US.
(The author is a scholar at the Shanghai International Studies University)
Disclaimer: This article is originally published on Global Times, and is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article do not reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.
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