President Donald Trump today called upon the UN to support the United States in its move to re-impose sanctions on Iran. Ripping up the Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), in which the US, China, EU and Russia agreed to lift economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic in exchange for guarantees over its nuclear programme, has been a consistent objective for the President, and he campaigned strongly on ending the deal prior to his election in 2016.
The President called the agreement a “horrible, one-sided deal that should never, ever have been made”, pleasing the hawks in Washington’s foreign policy establishment, and reversing one of former president Barack Obama’s most high-profile foreign policy achievements has great symbolic significance for Republicans who view Iran as a rogue state and sponsor of terrorism.
However, in defiance of the Trump administration, the EU has concocted a plan to circumnavigate the sanctions so European companies can continue with business as usual without being affected by the sanctions. The move has angered US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who sees the EU as cosying up to the Tehran, which is run as a fundamentalist theocracy by the Ayatollahs.
European attitudes to the US in general and Trump in particular are far from adulatory – indeed, this week UN leaders including representatives from the EU laughed in the President’s face while he was giving a speech – but condescension from the likes of EU foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini is unlikely to go down well in Washington.
Speaking today, Mike Pompeo ruled out a meeting between Trump and Iranian president Rouhani, accusing the Shia state of being a sponsor of terror. The Secretary of State said that talks can never begin until Iran changes its behaviour in the region, and pointed to European businesses “voting with their cheque books” by abandoning operations in the Middle Eastern state.
So far the UK government has been happy to take the EU line – it seems like the sensible, moderate position in a complex foreign policy landscape. And after all, Iran are far from the worst culprits in the Middle East – they were fighting against ISIS, after all, and you could make the case that in Yemen the Saudis have been just as bad.
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But Britain should be careful about taking a soft line, particularly in a context in which the government is keen to appear co-operative with Europe in all things but Brexit. Iran is the puppet-master behind the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, whose crazed leader only last month boasted that the terrorist militia is stronger than ever before, and supplies weapons to Hamas (the governing faction in Gaza classified by the whole international community as a terrorist group). Tehran is recognized widely as a state sponsor of terror, as well as a brutal police state.
The veracity of Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that Iran has violated its promise to halt its weapons programme is beside the point. Iran has exploited its position in Syria, where it has had as many as 15,000 troops deployed, seeking to extend its reach in the region. It is also responsible for multiple rocket attacks against Israel – not to mention its publicly declared mission to wipe the Jewish state from the planet.
The European consensus mentality towards the Middle East that has gripped educated circles since the Syrian conflict has the danger of generating a pious armchair pacifism. It’s considered cool to claim that Terhan is benign while attacking the Gulf states, as though one position excludes the other. It could be that Iran isn’t as bad as Trump and Pompeo say – but by placating the Mullahs Britain should take care not to find itself on the wrong side of history.