TEHRAN, May 12 (Press Shia Agency) – Research Director of International Business at the India, China & America Institute Dr. Dan Steinbock underlined that EU has begun putting new emphasis on enhancing European defense cooperation and concluding trade agreements with other countries and regions which can be seen as systemic efforts to reduce EU dependence on the US.
Steinbock described US President Trump’s recent approach to Iran nuclear deal as “a wrong decision in the wrong time and one likely to compound global political, economic and security risks.”
He noted that Trump’s unilateral efforts rest on economic pressure, political intimidation and, when necessary, military force, which rely on “divide and rule” principles – that is, splitting Iran internally, splitting EU members from a common policy, splitting Asia to “contain” China, splitting Mexico to redefine NAFTA, and so on.
President Trump has not only reversed US Iran policy but nearly seven decades of American foreign and security policy, he stressed.
Steinbock elaborated more in his comments addressed to Mehr News correspondent Lachin Rezaian:
What do you think about Trump’s withdrawal from JCPOA and EU’s position on his move?
It was the wrong decision in the wrong time and it is likely to compound global political, economic and security risks. Yet, the Trump decision was not unexpected. For some three years, the comprehensive nuclear accord (JCPOA) offered Iran relief from US, UN and multilateral sanctions on energy, financial, shipping, automotive and other sectors. Nevertheless, the shifts in the US policy ensued already in late 2016, before Trump’s arrival in the White House, when the Senate, following the House of Representatives, unanimously extended the Iran Sanctions Act for a decade in late 2016. Not only most Republicans, but many Democrats that had supported the JCPOA in the Obama era, reversed their positions surprisingly quickly.
Upon his arrival in the White House, Trump began developing a far more muscular policy against Iran. Regionally, it leans on Saudi Arabia for economic and geopolitical support, as evidenced the $350 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia a year ago, and Trump’s efforts to cement security ties with Israel, as reflected by the decision to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Last October, the Trump administration also designated for sanctions additional missile and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-related entities, while threatening to cease implementing the JCPOA.
Along with economic pressures, Trump seized covert operations naming the highly controversial CIA officer Michael D’Andrea the head of CIA’s Iran operations, as Mike Pompeo replaced Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. Reportedly, D’Andrea, who was deeply involved in the US interrogation program after 9/11 attacks, and Pompeo, an ultraconservative hawk, favor regime change in Iran. A new, far more assertive US foreign policy ensued when Trump made the neoconservative John Bolton his national security adviser and seeks to make Gina Haspel the new head of CIA. While Bolton contributed to the “weapons of mass destruction” prtext that paved the way to the war in Iraq in 2003, Haspel served as chief of a CIA black site torture prison and playe a role in the destruction of some 100 interrogation videotapes.
President Trump has not only reversed US Iran policy but nearly seven decades of American foreign and security policy.
Britain, France and Germany have issued a joint statement, emphasizing their continuing commitment following Trump’s announcement that US will pull out of the agreement and reinstate sanctions against Iran. However, they seem to seek changes to JCPOA, putting limitations on Iran’s missile program. How do you evaluate E3 efforts in this regard?
The key question is, Will the key European powers – Germany, France, the UK, and the EU itself – walk the talk. Prior to Trump’s decision, EU leaders tried to stress the importance of the full implementation of the JCPOA. As a proponent of the deal, French President Emmanuel Macron warned that “the nuclear non-proliferation regime is at stake.” Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas argued that the JCPOA “makes the world safer.” UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, too, failed to persuade Trump, while arguing that the “UK remains strongly committed to the JCPOA, and will work with European partners and other parties to the deal to maintain it.” Finally, in Brussels, the top EU diplomat Federica Mogherini pledged that the EU will remain committed to the “continued full and effective implementation of the nuclear deal.”
However, if the EU leaders will seek changes in the deal to accommodate the new Trump goals, that would amount to tacit acceptance of the new US sanctions. Of the European leaders, President Macron, following the Sarkozy footprints, has been perhaps most eager to seek common ground with the Trump White House, despite different views on many issues. And recently, France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that Europe’s foreign leaders would meet with Iran’s representatives to talk about the future of the JCPOA, while Macron said that “”we will work collectively on a broader framework, covering nuclear activity, the post-2025 period, ballistic activity, and stability in the Middle East, notably Syria, Yemen and Iraq.”
Such statements suggest that some EU leaders may seek to redefine the EU approach by leaving the JCPOA largely intact, but coupling the deal with new and broader conditions. That would not be constructive.
Regarding the close ties between US and Europe and their common interests, can Iran put trust in E3 over JCPOA (as Iranian Leader has announced clearly on Wednesday that he does not trust them either)?
As a deal-maker, President Trump has a track record not just in New York real estate, but in international trade and increasingly in international security. Through his 2016 campaign, Trump described the JCPOA with terms such as “disaster”, “the worst deal ever”, and so “terrible” that could lead to “a nuclear holocaust.” Assertive rhetoric is a key element in Trump’s deal-making style. It is followed by redefinition of the terms. Just as he has undermined free trade agreements in North America (NAFTA), Asia Pacific (TPP) and with the EU (TTIP), he seeks to mitigate the JCPOA. It is all a part of the effort to re-define, re-negotiate or reject US legacy deals. These unilateral efforts rest on economic pressure, political intimidation and, when necessary, military force, which rely on “divide and rule” principles – that is, splitting Iran internally, splitting EU members from a common policy, splitting Asia to “contain” China, splitting Mexico to redefine NAFTA, and so on.
Here’s how this general approach could apply in the case of Iran: Following the JCPOA, Iran has enjoyed some relief from sanctions on energy, financial, shipping, automotive and other sectors. These primary sanctions were lifted after the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) certification in January 2016 that Iran had complied with the agreement. Yet, secondary sanctions on firms remained in place, along with sanctions applying to US companies, including banks. It is thus to be expected that the US may seek to strengthen the secondary sanctions, while seeking to restore the primary sanctions.
Since fall 2017, Trump’s actions also provide other signals of what’s to come. Last October, he demanded the JCPOA to limit Iranian ballistic missile development and Iran’s regional activities. Both before and after that policy statement, the administration has imposed sanctions on additional entities related to Iran’s missile program, Navy operations in the Persian Gulf, and other activities in the region. Since both US Congress and the EU refused to tweak the JCPOA for Trump’s geopolitical goals, he withdrew the US from the deal himself. That, in turn, will return highlight to Iran sanctions legislation enacted or under consideration in the Congress, such as the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act of 2017 (CAATSA), plus additional pending legislation relating to Iran’s ballistic missiles, the assets of numerous Iranian leaders, stricter oversight on Iran’s access to finance, re-imposition of waived US sanctions. Additionally, there is a number of other possible sanctions that could receive consideration in the US and, should the EU blink, in multilateral international framework targeting both entities and persons.
In the EU view, the US JCPOA debacle is the latest friction in a long chain of transatlantic disagreements. If President George W. Bush almost crashed the transatlantic ties with a unipolar security policy, President Trump seems intent to do the same with his “America First” stance in trade and geopolitics. Through the Trump campaign, many European leaders expressed grave concern about the future of US-European relations, particularly regarding to the commitment to the NATO, EU integration, multilateral trading system, global migration, environment, human rights, international multilateral organizations. Europeans have been especially wary with the Trump administration’s approach to Iran, the withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, and the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
From Iran’s standpoint, it is vital to build on the international legitimacy of the JCPOA and its implementation. In this regard, Iran has walked the talk; the Trump White House has not. As a consequence, the ball is in the court of the non-US JCPOA parties. If one party of the deal seeks to violate its terms, then others should intervene to sustain the JCPOA. Moreover, if European leaders give in, that is likely to contribute to new shifts in the White House’s policies; shifts that could be even more detrimental to both EU values and interests.
How will Iran-Europe economic ties suffer if the US resumes Iran sanctions?
As with the buried free trade agreements, the Trump administration will start by economic pressure by targeting those European businesses that have done business in and with Iran since the JCPOA. As the White House seeks to strengthen secondary sanctions and reimpose primary sanctions against Iran, it may extend those sanctions over to companies that represent other JCPOA parties – that is, China, France, Russia, UK, Germany and the EU – while conceivably raising risks for their US access. It was this signal that was delivered by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, after Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA, when he said that European-Iran business agreements would be voided as “the existing licenses will be revoked.”
Along with Renault, PSA Peugeot Citroen and Sanofi, French companies have significant stakes in the deal, thanks to the Airbus contract to provide Iran Air 100 airplanes for some $21 billion and the oil giant Total’s $2 billion deal to develop the South Pars oil field. As Germany has historically had relatively greatest trading ties with Iran with exports totaling $3.1 billion in 2016, German Chamber of Commerce and Industry has strongly supported the EU commitment to the JCPOA. Some 120 German companies, including Volkswagen and Siemens, already operate in Iran and another 10,000 do business with Iran. Along with Total, Royal Dutch Shell would be adversely affected. While UK’s Foreign Minister Boris Johnson has been vocal about the UK not walking out of the deal, trade between the UK and Iran has not taken off as broadly as with some other EU countries, except for the retailer Debenhams, BAT Dunhill and Kent cigarettes and some other firms. Last year, Iran received 400,000 tourists, but uncertainty could undermine expansion.
Economic pressure could harm most significantly Iran’s most important sector, the oil industry in which the largest single buyers include China, South Korea, Turkey, Japan, Italy and India. In this economic blackmail, the message is simple: “Get out of Iran, if you want to stay in the US ”It is an effort at regime change by another name – but without any internationally acceptable legitimacy since Iran has fully and effectively implemented the JCPOA conditions.
Iranian President Rouhani said he will remain committed to JCPOA with remaining parties (without US). How do you evaluate the future of nuclear agreement without US (Will JCPOA survive without US?)
A year ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel famously said that the days when Europe could depend on others – read: the US – were “over” to some extent. As a result, the EU has begun putting new emphasis on enhancing European defense cooperation and concluding trade agreements with other countries and regions, including Canada, Japan, and Latin America. Such moves can be seen as systemic efforts to reduce EU dependence on the US.
The JCPOA debacle is still another critical area of disagreement. Naturally, the outcome is of huge importance to Iran. But many other countries will monitor the events with equal interest. What’s in line is the very credibility of the EU powers.
Dr. Dan Steinbock is an internationally recognized strategist of the multipolar world and the founder of Difference Group. He has served as research director at the India, China and America Institute (USA) and visiting fellow at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (China) and the EU Center (Singapore). For more, see https://www.differencegroup.net/c
Interview by: Lachin Rezaian