Vagaries of Consciousness
- Trump has deepened divisions with Europe
The US exit from Iran nuclear deal has exposed the Middle East to new challenges. The European powers, however, are showing a rare determination to salvage the deal. Last week in Brussels, the European leaders met with the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and elicited Iran’s commitment to adhere to the deal while affirming their own commitment to the terms and conditions of the agreement.
The European leaders are facing the most difficult challenge in balancing the need for preserving a deal that was negotiated after more than a decade of hard work against the concerns that subsequently emerged with the extraordinary rise in Iran’s role in most Middle Eastern conflicts, particularly in Syria. However, they broke with the US on the ground that the best way of addressing those concerns was to work within the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) rather than after abrogating it. After the US withdrawal from JCPOA, their immediate goal was to convince Iran that it was in her best interest to remain in the agreement (despite Iran’s right to walk away from JCPOA). Individually, all foreign ministers, particularly German and British, assured Iran that they would find ways to remain compliant with the terms and conditions of the agreement. After the meeting, Mr Zarif remarked that both sides were “on the right track”.
A herculean task lies ahead for the EU to overcome US threats of sanctions on Iran, under US laws, that would cover not just US firms but anybody who engages in business with Iran. Already, two major European firms, Total of France and Siemens of Germany, have indicated that they would be unable to withstand US sanctions. To counter the threat, the EU has indicated that it would further amend an existing blocking statute which was enacted in 1996 in response to the US sanctions on Cuba, Libya and Iran. The law would prohibit EU persons from complying with the sanctions imposed by the US against Iran following its withdrawal from JCPOA. The US Treasury Department has announced that there would be a 90-day and 180-day winding down period for the re-imposition of sanctions on Iran. The EU plans to make the amendment in the blocking law to come into effect prior to the expiration of the winding down period.
However, legal experts are expressing doubts about the efficacy of the proposed EU blocking law both in its expeditious implementation and in the confidence it will inspire among the businesses to comply with its provisions. It is said that the businesses would find themselves between a rock and a hard place. The EU law goes into effect only after a national law is adopted, which members are quite slow to enact. On the other hand, the risks businesses face arise from the US banking system, which has a very pervasive hold on the international financial flows. The penalties for violation imposed under the national laws of EU member countries run into few millions as opposed to the US penalties that could go up to billions of euros/dollars.
The unilateral withdrawal of the US from the JCPOA has put at risk the basic forum which it had so painstakingly crafted in the aftermath of the Second World War in the hope that the world would never see the colossal loss of life and property witnessed during those days
On the other hand, the US is pursuing its agenda of sanctions vigorously. Last week, the new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a speech at the Heritage Foundation – where he had also appeared in September 2015 to count the ills of the JCPOA – laid out the basic features of the US strategy toward Iran that would work outside JCPOA. After recounting in some detail the failure of the Iran nuclear deal “to guarantee the safety of the American people from the risk created by the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran”, he listed several lines of action the US would take “with allies to counter the regime’s destabilising activities in the region, block their financing of terror, and address Iran’s proliferation of missiles and other advanced weapons systems that threaten peace and stability”. Adding further that “[w]e will also ensure Iran has no path to a nuclear weapon – not now, not ever”. The actions include: First, the sanctions would be unprecedented, which would choke off the Iranian economy; Second, working with department of defense, Iran’s aggressive actions would be opposed throughout the region, including any design to restart the nuclear program. Finally, the cases of human rights abuses in Iran would be pursued ceaselessly.
He then laid out twelve demands from Iran that largely comprise opening of its nuclear facilities to IAEA inspection, end to its missiles development plan, and to its support to Hamas, Hezballah, Taliban, Houthi rebels, and Iraqi militias, and withdrawal of its forces from Syria. If these demands are complied with, he said, the US would be willing to enter into a treaty with Iran, outside JCPOA, to enable it to take its rightful place in the community of nations.
Clearly, the address exhibits a high degree of belligerence toward Iran and its regime. Predictably, the Iranian leadership has responded with scorn and disparagement. But many other voices have disagreed with the Secretary’s approach. In its editorial,the New York Times has declared the address as “wishful thinking that will make regional tensions worse, if not lead to outright conflict”. It goes on to argue that the “sanctions that preceded the 2015 nuclear deal were effective because they were broadly supported by the international community, especially Europe, Russia and China”. The Times warned: “justifiably angered, the Europeans are discussing ways around the American sanctions, further eroding the trans-Atlantic alliance and perhaps hastening the day when they have a financial system far less entwined with the United States’”.
There is a more fundamental principle of international diplomacy at stake. The signatories to the UN Charter had agreed – and it was ratified by their respective legislating bodies – under Article-1, “[t]o maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace”.
The unilateral withdrawal of the US from the JCPOA has put at risk the basic forum which it had so painstakingly crafted in the aftermath of the Second World War in the hope that the world would never see the colossal loss of life and property witnessed during those days. Even if the US has the power to elude the UN system, it must realise that it exposes the system to a grave risk of credibility. The principles of fairness and accountability that underpin the UN Charter, if not respected, would only strengthen the forces that believe that such principles are nothing more than devices used only when convenient. The goals of world peace and security would not be served under such circumstances.