Why empty threats by Iran can’t save the nuclear deal and the Islamic Republic’s image in the West?

Three years since the Iran nuclear deal, the country has not really learned its lesson yet. Even though the terms of the agreement are respected as per UN nuclear watchdog, it keeps issuing threats to the West and to other Middle Eastern countries putting the stability in the region at risk.

This week marks the third year since Iran and global powers implemented the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Put into practice on January 16, 2016, the agreement on the Iranian nuclear program aimed to limit Iran’s nuclear activity, in order to protect the stability in the region. So, sanctions against the Islamic Republic could be lifted. Three years later, the picture is not that bright as it was expected to become back in 2015 with the signing of the JCPOA. Recent announcements from Iranian authorities involve more claims about the country having the potential to enrich more uranium. This month, the Islamic Republic also launched satellites using technology applicable to long-range missiles.

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Similar threats coming from Iran are nothing unusual, especially in the last 8 months, since USA’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal on May 8, 2018.  Despite being condemned as a mistake by European leaders and former US president Barack Obama (the one who signed the deal), Donald Trump’s move had some significant reasons behind it. “The first one is that the deal isn’t entirely permanent; the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program start to relax about 10 years after the deal was signed (though the agreement not to build a nuclear weapon is permanent). The second is that the deal didn’t cover other problematic affairs Iran was engaging in, including ballistic missile development. Also not its support for violent militias around the Middle East (like Hezbollah in Lebanon),” explained Vox. Even if there was no evidence provided by the US on Iran not complying with the terms of the nuclear deal, the country’s military activity still poses a major threat. Be it not only to the Middle East but to its own population and even to Europe.

What followed Trump’s decision were two rounds of sanctions imposed on Iran’s business, industry and banking system, as well on around 700 individuals. Since that, the European Union has tried its best to defend the nuclear deal and its mutual trade with Iran. It even created a new payment mechanism – Special Purpose Vehicle for trade (SPV) – for European businesses wishing to continue trading with Iran, mitigating the effect of re-imposed US sanctions. However, during recent talks with Iran, European leaders like France’s president Emmanuel Macron have tried to address the issues Trump considered when leaving the deal. Unfortunately, the Islamic Republic’s response was always the same – “ignore and keep up with the threats” instead of trying to change its toxic politics – both foreign and interior.

Still, Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif were not satisfied enough with EU’s efforts. In particular the ones for saving JCPOA – it led them to complain that they were not sufficient. Since last May on Iranian politicians were issuing publicly threats of a different nature. They were doing so to put pressure on the European Union and blackmail it so it would defend Iran’s interest before the US. One week after Trump left the nuclear agreement, Iran was ready with his response. “We have the capacity and we are ready to resume our nuclear activities to a much higher level if the talks fail with Europeans to save the nuclear deal after America’s exit,” assured the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, Ali Akbar Salehi. At the beginning of June, he reaffirmed Iran’s readiness to boost uranium enrichment. At the end of the month, Iran has reopened a nuclear plant that was idle for nine years. In July, Iran built a new centrifuge factory. In addition, Rouhani threatened to block the world’s most important oil chokepoint – the Strait of Hormuz. When the first round of sanctions was launched in August, Iran unveiled a new ballistic missile after test firing it over the Strait of Hormuz. One month later, Iran completed a facility to build advanced centrifuges, according to a statement from Salehi. After the implementations of the second tranche of sanctions on November 5, Rouhani warned of a “war situation”, saying that US bases are within range of its missiles. Meanwhile,  Iran’s nuclear chief notified the European Union of “unpredictable consequences if deal breaks down”. In December, Iran confirmed that it had carried out a test of a medium-range ballistic missile after Western powers sharply criticized the launch.

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With all that said, Iran proved that it doesn’t have any intentions to improve its relations with the West. Quite the opposite – it was only trying to benefit from the EU and use it as a leverage in the “Cold War” with the US. In August, the European Commission approved an €18 million support package for Iran. For the last 3 years, the Middle Eastern country has also earned a lot by the lifting of the sanctions. Anyway the Islamic Republic still invests too much in military activities and their support for proxy groups in Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen and even plotted attacks on European soil and not enough in its own population and economic issues.  Despite that, Rouhani said at the UN General Assembly that Iran supports peace and democracy in the entire Middle East. Meanwhile, protests were spreading all over the country in the last months – “It’s amazing: we have rockets, but no diapers”, scolded average Iranians.

As can be seen, the incompetence and arrogance of Iranian leaders becomes more and more obvious with the lack of relevant political solutions to the challenges faced by the country. The empty threats are only proving how impotent the regime is. Blackmailing the European Union is not going to help that either. It’s time for Iran to finally sit at the negotiations table and listen, as it was offered not only by European leaders but even by Donald Trump. Rescuing the nuclear deal is of critical importance not only for the Middle East but for Europe as well.  Especially when the Iranian economy is in recession. However, this can’t happen at all costs. Therefore, the West shouldn’t stay silent anymore over Iran’s constant abuses – against other countries and against its own people.