As the United States continues rallying the world to uphold brutal international sanctions against the Islamic Republic in violation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, or JCPOA, Europe is struggling to convince Iran to remain in the agreement through INSTEX (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges).
The question, however, remains whether Iran can any longer trust the European allies of the US to present any meaningful measures to provide Tehran assurances about actual relief from the US-led sanctions. The following is a news analysis of recent and developing events leading to Europe’s last-minute efforts to win Iran’s trust of INSTEX.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzu Abe traveled to Iran on a high-profile visit on June 12 widely regarded as a bid to deliver a message to Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei on behalf of US President Donald Trump to plead for the resumption of talks between Tehran and Washington.
‘Even Japan wouldn’t trust Trump’s White House’
Ayatollah Khamenei plainly snubbed the offer, telling the Japanese premier that while he believed in Abe’s sincerity, he did not consider Trump as a person worthy of exchanging messages with.
Addressing the Japanese prime minister, Ayatollah Khamenei further underlined, “We believe that negotiating with the US will not solve any of our problems. Americans have shown the most animosity they could toward us and they still do. No free nation would accept negotiations under pressure.”
Commenting on the development, former Iranian diplomat Abdolreza Farajirad said even Prime Minister Abe himself must have known that Iran would not trust a perfidious White House.
“Shinzo Abe’s visit to Iran, compared to [the visit to Tehran by] German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, was more concerned on the soured relations between Iran and the US,” Farajirad said. “In fact, he (Abe) had the hope to convince Iran to sit at the negotiating table with the Americans but even Abe himself knew well that Iranians would never negotiate with the current administration at the White House.”
He said Abe “just did what he was supposed to do: deliver a message; otherwise, just like the rest of the world, Abe knows about Trump’s utter disregard for the international laws and norms; and I am sure that even the Japanese government does not trust the US’s promises anymore.”
Tehran University Professor Mohammad Marandi also pointed out that both visits took place at the request of Washington, saying, “The Americans are sending all sorts of messages through these [third] governments, and that shows that US calculations towards Iran have failed.”
He cited Iran’s power and the US’s inability to force Iran into submission.
“The United States recognizes that it cannot force Iran to submit or raise a white flag and that Iran is much more powerful than the US had thought,” he said. “At the same time, Iran’s asymmetrical responses to the United States and asymmetrical responses of Iranian allies to regional proxies of the US are quite significant. Therefore, the US is looking for a way out.”
Marandi said the US was the party that had left the negotiating table.
“Americans have to go back to the negotiating table themselves and they have to accept to stop impeding the nuclear deal from being implemented and make up for the damage caused as a result of their policies.”
The JCPOA was originally reached between Iran and the P5+1, or the US, the UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany. It was to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for lifting nuclear-related sanctions off Iran. Iran did curb its program — which it has maintained has been peaceful all along — and yet, in unilaterally ditching the multilateral deal on May 8, 2018, the Trump White House re-imposed and expanded the bans on Iran.
“The problem,” Marandi said, “is that the US is giving mixed and conflicting messages and Trump says one thing today and something else the next day and [US Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo and [National Security Advisor John] Bolton have their own messages, which are also conflicting; but to Iran, those messages are meaningless.”
“The only thing that matters to Iran is to see substantial change on the ground, which will require America to end its economic warfare against ordinary Iranians. Iranians see this as terrorism, and for Americans to make up for the damage they’ve caused as the result of their violations… anything less than this for Iranians is completely unacceptable.”
Meanwhile, Iran has set 60-day deadlines to the remaining parties to the JCPOA to make it work or see Iran leave. After each deadlines, Iran would be scaling down its commitments based on the provisions of the deal itself.
“By his visit to Iran, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was more concerned about the issue of INSTEX and Iran’s two-month deadline,” said Farajirad.
“The Europeans insist on INSTEX and keep saying that it is beneficial but I don’t think the Iranian government will be fooled by their empty promises again.”
‘Do you really think that the EU can forget about trade with the US?!’
Hossein Naqavi, an Iranian MP and a member of the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, said Europe could not be differentiated from the US.
“The Europeans keep claiming boastfully that they are independent and brag all the time that they make their own decisions and never let the US interfere in their decision-making. But in reality, I believe that they are unquestionably obedient to the US,” he said.
“The capitalist system is an integrated system. As a result, the followers of this system are inseparable. In addition, the EU’s trades with the US amounts to over 450 billion dollars annually,” he added. “Do you really think that the EU will forget about this 450 billion dollars for the sake of Iran? It’s impossible. So, the EU can never act independently.
He said Iran “has decided to stop holding out much hope on the EU’s help as it has turned out to be a colossal waste of time.”
Former Iranian diplomat Mohsen Rouhisefat disagreed.
“In the world of politics, small achievements accumulate gradually and get you what you want,” Rouhisefat said. “In the case of the EU’s behavior, [and] respect and stance toward the US, you will notice a serious change compared to, say, five years ago.”
He said the Europeans now “announce their disagreement regarding various issues every now and then. This change, however, is not big enough to benefit the Iranians, but I am sure that they have become fed up with the US’s undermining of their independence, too.”
Experts say that even if Iran did sit at the negotiating table with the US again, the deal-breaching White House might well back out yet again, and the pro-Israel members of US Congress may yet impose further sanctions on Iran.
What if the next US president decided not to abide by a deal struck by his or her predecessor, just as Trump did? If Trump himself is re-elected in 2020, his unreliability will still be there.
“Trump’s measures can be described as his attempts for victory in the coming presidential election,” said Farajirad. “He has made several promises to his fans and he is striving to prove to them that he is a man of his words. Trump does anything to satisfy his fans.”
A case of 2+2
Marani said, “I don’t think, for the Iranians, it makes any difference who is in charge of the White House. Iranians are not going to make their calculations based on who may or may not be the president or who may or may not occupy the White House. It does not matter whether it’s Obama or Trump or anyone else.”
“So, Iran has implemented a nuclear deal. The Americans were a part of the deal. The Iranian expectations are for the Americans to abide by that deal. Anything less than that is unacceptable.”
It remains to be seen how far the European officials can go in their efforts to keep the JCPOA alive and re-establish and expand trade relations with Iran.
Iran has no intention of negotiating with the US, for as long as Washington is showing no commitment to the JCPOA.
‘Well, this never works!’
The US has both backed out of the JCPOA and is sending a stream of mediators into Iran. What’s the point?
“Iran does not want to be in constant conflict with the US government but it does have some principles and rational requests, which must be fulfilled by the US before it goes to the negotiating table,” Farajirad said.
“Trump sends Abe to Tehran on the one hand and sanctions our petrochemical companies on the other,” he added. “Well, this never works! It is completely normal that in this situation, Iran will resist; and I tell you something, the Iranian Islamic government is the teacher of resistance in the world.”
Iranian MP Valiollah Nanvakenari said, “The EU countries should know that Iran is ready to negotiate with the US too, but Trump must return to the JCPOA beforehand.”
“The Islamic Republic of Iran welcomes negotiations with every country except the occupying regime of Israel.”