As July was starting there were two Iran-related developments that went without the proper coverage considering their international importance.
Big Decision by the IAEA
One week ago, the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) supported a motion initiated by the UK, France and Germany opposing Iran’s decision not to allow nuclear inspectors in its territory. This marked the first time EU’s main powers sided with the United States, since the latter pulled out of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (commonly known as the Iran deal). This move was considered by pundits and experts as a change in behavior from the EU countries towards Iran. Only Russia and China voted against the motion, which raised “serious concerns” about Iran’s refusal to “cooperate fully.”
Moreover, Josep Borrell, the High Representative of the European Union announced at the end of last week that Iran had triggered a dispute mechanism in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The mechanism is a clause inside the deal through which a complaint regarding a potential violation of the deal could be resolved. According to the deal, the mechanism allows for any disagreement to be resolved withing one month, which could be prolonged if all parties agreed. As the Washington Post reported in January, the UK, France and Germany activated the mechanism at the beginning of the year, when Iran announced that it was no longer bound by limitations on uranium enrichment, as stipulated in the deal. However, they later suspended the mechanism.
Obama’s Weak Deal
The fact that Iran did not allow the IAEA inspectors in its nuclear facilities should not come as a surprise. It all comes down to the weak deal that Barack Obama negotiated in 2015, together with his European allies. The former American President was perhaps the weakest in US history, especially when it came to his foreign policy. Living in a dream world, Barack Obama hoped that even a bad deal would be better than no deal with respect to Iran. He believed that when sanctions had been removed, Iran would join the international community as a partner, giving up its ambitions of becoming a nuclear power.
This line of reasoning made the grave and naïve mistake of considering that Iran would act in good faith and simply abide the rules of the deal. Iran is a sponsor of terror with billions of dollars going to Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations. Security experts have linked Iran to terror attacks in five continents. It would be absurd to believe that a weak deal would be enough to restrain it.
Why Was the Iran Deal Bad?
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action had three main flaws. It allowed for inspections from nuclear inspectors, but only if Iran were to allow it. So, Iran has to decide which sites are to be inspected and when. It is like suspecting someone has committed a crime and the suspected criminal decides which will be given as proof to the police and when.
Secondly, the deal has an automatic sunset provision, through which most of the restrictions will expire. Since Iran was allowed to keep its nuclear sites and the progress made until 2015, nothing would impede it to resume where it had left, in a decade or so. Thus, the US and its allies were admitting that their attempt to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons were only temporary.
Thirdly, it did not restrict Iran’s ballistic missile program. Indeed, Iran has continued performing missile tests in the years subsequent to the deal coming into effect, including as recent as after the killing of the top Iranian official and declared terrorist, Gen. Qasem Soleimani. Iran has the largest missile arsenal in the Middle East and is committed to building a formidable cruise missile force, reaching 2,000 km, which would put many NATO members in Europe within range.
According to Special US envoy Brian Hook, Barack Obama’s nuclear deal significantly weakened prohibitions on uranium enrichment and ballistic missile testing imposed on Iran by UN Security Council Resolutions pushed through by the Bush administration. By pulling out of the deal, Trump simply reverted to the much more effective restrictions in place before 2015.
Giving Iran $150 Billion
In return, Iran was given 150 billion dollars by unfreezing its assets which undoubtedly were used to finance terror related activities. Furthermore, the Heritage Foundation back when the deal was approved, estimated that “the renewed ability to sell more oil on the open market could wind up bringing $300 to 400 billion into the Iranian economy, bolstering the Iranian government”. In this context, Trump was right to pull out of the deal. Iran’s current actions of defiance prove that the deal was easily breakable from the Iranian part, giving more proof to the fact that the mistake was on the European part for sticking to the deal. And that is the root of the problem.
The West is not reacting in a unified way with a common strategy. The deal has been proven to be pointless and even counterproductive. Instead of joining the US’ maximum pressure policy, the EU continued down the unproductive and careless path of appeasement to a theocracy. It is this division between the West and the failing appeasement policy of the EU, together with a terrible deal that have emboldened Iran and explain recent actions.
IAEA: Iran’s Enriched Uranium Stockpile is Growing
In addition, while the EU keeps the worthless deal in place, according to IAEA, Iran’s stockpile of low enriched uranium has grown far above the limit of 300 kilograms stipulated in the nuclear deal, reaching 2,324.9 kilograms. Based on the Institute for Science and International Security analysis, Heritage Foundation reports that the quantity gathered is more than enough to build a nuclear weapon if further enriched, a process that would take three months. Also, these reports show that the number of centrifuges enriching uranium has increased beyond the allowed level under the deal. Therefore, it is obvious why Iran will not allow IAEA inspectors inside the country.
It is an observable pattern that Trump does not like involving America in unnecessary wars. In fact, he is the first President since Gerald Ford not to start a war. However, this does not mean his methods are weak. President Trump believes in peace through strengths. As Heritage points out in their analysis of the President’s policies, Trump uses his rhetoric to scare, confuse and confound his adversaries. This is balanced with back-channel talks and coercive actions.
Europe Needs to Get Real
However, actions by the United States alone are not enough. Not when Iran threatens to escalate its dangerous behavior unless the EU helps it evade US oil and bank sanctions. So, the real problem is Europe. Instead of accepting the offer to work together, the leading countries of the EU are more concerned with bashing Trump. They forget that peace and stability in the Middle East are vital first and foremost for Europe itself more so than for the US. This division created by Europe benefits only Iran, which has chosen the policy of waiting for Trump to finish his term, and possibly have a more sympathetic President in the White House like Joe Biden, who is part of the establishment who allowed the Iran mess to worsen throughout the decades. Iran is more than happy for Europe to continue its appeasement policy, continue enriching its uranium, strengthen its ballistic missiles and wait for a new President in the US.
Meanwhile, as EU leaders appear closer in their thinking to Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policy with Adolf Hitler, Trump appears to be the smartest player in the field. He is implementing his peace though strength policy, showing his willingness to escalate sanctions to the highest levels. According to an Iranian estimate, US sanctions have cost the country $200 billion. Iran may say it can wait, but the Trump administration is in no hurry for a deal either, being confident in the effectiveness of its policies, as Iran continues to prove it is breaking the deal.
The only solution going forward is a new more restrictive deal that would permanently and indisputably prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. The path towards this is by maintaining the maximum pressure policy, keeping the arms-transfer ban, and for Europe to put an end to the current deal. There are a few subtle hints that at least the UK is getting closer to the US way of thinking and will convince Germany and France as well. It is inevitable that in the future this will happen. However, the sooner it does the better for international stability’s sake. Iran is currently one of the greatest threats to world peace and Europe is preventing the real, decisive and definitive actions that are necessary to solve this problem once and for all.