Europe's submissive attitude toward Iran and its nuclear weapons program must change, political analyst Diana Gregor, a leading expert in Central European policies vis-a-vis Iran told Benjamin Weinthal, The Jerusalem Post's correspondent in Berlin.
What is your assessment of the EU’s approach toward Iran’s drive to go nuclear?
I find it important to emphasize that Europe is willingly swallowing Iran’s
non-compliance, despite harsher sanctions and European businesses pulling out of
Having said that, the EU is currently considering putting an end to
direct talks with Iran – which only emphasizes the degree of disbelief and
disenchantment vis-a-vis Iran’s nuclear weapons development program. The EU is
at a point where it wants to see Iran “walk the walk” and not only “talk the
Data shows German trade with Iran increased in 2010
Iran claims to have increased stock of enriched uranium
The EU is also currently thinking of entering talks with Iran only
on the condition of Iran’s compliance with the international community’s demands
from now on. If this regulation comes into effect, it would have immediate
impact on the next round of talks in Istanbul – if talks take place at
Many officials within the EU, however, are convinced that Iran is
only playing for time while it keeps fooling the international community – a
notion I agree with.
Are the EU sanctions putting enough pressure on the
Past and current developments do not point toward a change of heart
where the Iranians are concerned. And the West seems to be willing to
submit to yet another round of Iran’s special brand of diplomacy, which consists
of indicating openness to renew negotiations (i.e., the upcoming talks in
Istanbul) and pseudo-transparency (i.e., the recently issued invitation by Iran
to inspect its nuclear sites) – while at the same time emphasizing that there is
nothing to talk about, and that Iran will not put an end to its uranium
enrichment program. Iran’s negotiations are merely ways to buy more
For the future stability of Europe – a future in which Europe is
not subjected to blackmail or nuclear threats – Iran must abolish its nuclear
weapons development program; or be stopped. Inaction will not stop the Iranian
Iran sanctions so far have hit the country’s economy quite hard,
but have not had an effect on the mullahs’ regime. The latest P5+1 talks in
Geneva showed once again that Iran has no intention to halt its uranium
enrichment program and change its nuclear ambitions.
supposed to isolate Iran economically. However, sanctions can only be effective
if they are accurately and rigorously implemented. Only then can sanctions
convince companies not to do business with Iran. The idea behind sanctions – to
paraphrase Stuart E. Eizenstat – is to maximize the costs that Iran incurs due
to its nuclear weapons development program by simultaneously minimizing the
benefits. This is the reason why the financial sources Iran needs to keep
its nuclear program running need to be eliminated.
Iran is wedded to the
idea of having a nuclear capability; the Iranians do not intend to give that
Targeted sanctions therefore seem to offer a suitable solution, as
chances for a diplomatic breakthrough remain extremely slim.What is the
status of US-EU coordination regarding sanctions?
Since President Obama took
office, the US and the EU have worked cooperatively on an Iran policy.
October 2010, the EU issued new regulations, after the fourth round of sanctions
[imposed this summer], calling for restrictions on equipment and technology
sales to the Iranian oil and gas industry, as well as on respective investments.
However, these regulations do allow the import and export of oil and gas to
Iran. The EU also allows financial transactions needed to import oil and gas to
The US, on the contrary, penalizes companies selling gasoline to
Iran and has increased pressure on international companies and refineries to
cancel their contracts with Iran.
There has been an agreement between the
US State Department and European oil firms Total (France), Statoil (Norway), Eni
(Italy) and Royal Dutch Shell (Netherlands + Britain) to refuse to refuel planes
that belong to Iran Air – they have pledged to stop investing in Iran and to not
engage in any new activities with the Islamic Republic. In return, the companies
are granted protection from possible US penalties for their pre-existing
business ventures with Iran.
The US and EU are considering imposing new,
joint sanctions before the next round of P5+1 talks scheduled for later this
month in Istanbul. They agree that cooperative, joint action with regard to Iran
is necessary. They believe in the effectiveness and efficiency of EU-US
sanctions, rather than UN-sanctions, as UN-sanctions are often time-consuming and
not always successful. None of the previously issued UN sanctions so far
have been able to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons development
program.Is there a unified Iran policy among European countries?
the EU there are different blocks: Some are pushing for Iran sanctions and their
proper implementation, and others are advocating against
restrictions. Some of the driving forces behind a “slack” position toward
EU sanctions against Iran are the following:
Sweden has distinguished itself as
one of the EU nations most opposed to sanctions against Iran and has constantly
worked to weaken the sanctions put into effect by the international
community. After the new round of sanctions was agreed upon in June 2010,
Sweden called for decreasing the severity of EU sanctions. Swedish firms are
involved in Iran’s energy sector with private companies selling equipment and
spare parts to Iran’s oil industry. Sweden’s ambassador was among the few
Western diplomats who attended [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad’s
inauguration in June 2009.
Austria: Austrian companies are earning good
money in Iran, but rarely talk publicly about it. As a result of the global
financial crisis, Austria’s total worldwide exports shrank by 20 percent last
year. Meanwhile, the country’s exports to Iran grew! Austria has repeatedly
contributed to keeping the Iranian regime from international isolation, and has
not helped with steps toward destroying the economic basis of the dictatorship
of the ayatollahs and the Revolutionary Guards.
Despite the UN and EU
sanctions against Iran, the volume of trade between Teheran and Vienna reached
635.95 million euros in 2008. Austrian exports to the Islamic Republic,
including sophisticated machinery and electronic goods, rose by almost 6% in
2009, reaching 350 million euros, while Austrian exports to the rest of the
world fell by 20% due to the financial crisis. Since 2002 trade between Austria
and Iran has doubled, with military deals accounting for 11%.
Spain is a
major purchaser of Iranian crude oil. According to the Spanish Ministry of
Industry, Tourism and Commerce, Spain is the biggest oil importer in the
European Union; in fact, within the first quarter of 2010, Spain purchased
134,607 barrels a day, with an approximate value of $11.6 billion. Spain is one
of Iran’s biggest European Union Trade partners. In 2008, trade between the two
nations nearly doubled, reaching over 3b. euros, according to the Iranian
Chamber of Commerce. Spain is one of seven countries chosen to participate in
the development of the Teheran-Mashhad railroad project, which is estimated to
cost between $650.7 and $867.6 million.
There are 1,500 Spanish
enterprises in Iran, mostly concerned with developing infrastructure, generation
of electricity, water administration and renewable energy. Spain is the
secondbiggest importer of oil from Iran [within the EU], just behind Italy. From
January 2010 to July 2010 Spanish exports to Iran increased
Switzerland remains one of Europe’s least compliant
nations. After the EU voted to strengthen the UN sanctions, the Swiss
energy giant EGL was cited as a possible sanctions violator at a US
congressional hearing. The hearing cited firms active in Iran’s gas and oil
sectors despite sanctions. According to the Swiss Foreign Ministry, Iran
is one of Switzerland’s most important Middle Eastern trading
Italy: Despite the diplomatic rhetoric, Rome traditionally has
good business relations with Teheran, and Italy remains one of Iran’s largest
and most important trading partners in Europe, with bilateral trade totaling
well over $7.5b. a year. Italian refiners are maintaining crude oil trade with
Iran at a time when other oil majors and big refiners are halting
Malta, Greece and Cyprus have also opposed additional Iran
The EU is Iran’s second largest trading partner worldwide,
The difficulty of properly implementing Iran sanctions
obviously lies in the many differences there are within the EU.What is
the status of the 22- billion-euro gas deal involving Austria’s partially
state-owned energy company OMV-Iran to develop the Iran’s South Pars gas fields?
To date, OMV has not succumbed to pressure regarding the South Pars gas project.
OMV executive board member Helmut Langanger stated that Iran is continuously
pressing OMV to begin with investments, but OMV would rather wait for oil prices
to recover. Furthermore, OMV has made it clear that it could still take
on the role of a partner, should it decide not to become an
Today, the IRGC [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps] constitutes
a “state within a state,” thus making ever more realistic the possibility that
OMV – should the deal come to a close – might have to sign agreements with the
Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution. Since the Revolutionary Guards
control the nuclear and arms program, this in turn would mean that OMV would be
indirectly co-financing the Iranian nuclear program.How should the EU
deal with the Swiss state-owned energy conglomerate EGL and its refusal to
terminate its 18b.- 22b. euro gas deal with Iran?
Switzerland does not seem to
understand its responsibility to make sure Iran does not get nuclear weapons.
This is a pure affront against Iran sanctions and the efforts to isolate Iran
economically. The EU should call upon Switzerland to revoke the EGL deal
with Iran and abide by the EU and US sanctions. Furthermore, the US should
reconsider having the Swiss Foreign Ministry represent US interests in Iran.
Switzerland is clearly avoiding its responsibility to international
security.The US recently implemented human rights sanctions against
Iran. Why is the EU unwilling to sanction Iran in connection with human rights?
As concerns about Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons and its regional ambitions
grow, a new international trend is emerging in which Iran is sanctioned for its
human rights abuses as a means to weaken the regime while strengthening the West
in this nuclear face-off.
However, the official focus on human rights
abuses has not gone far enough. The true potential that lies within the EU falls
short of what could actually be done to further isolate Iran. The EU has not yet
decided whether it will implement human rights sanctions against Iran. Such
sanctions would undermine the current regime and contribute to the West’s
nuclear standoff with Iran, while sending out the right moral signal for
supporting human rights in the Islamic Republic.What is your view of
Europe’s “critical dialogue” and “change through trade” policies toward Iran?
am convinced that many European states, such as Switzerland, Italy and Austria,
to name only a few, have succumbed to Iran’s game of fooling the West. Dialogue,
whether critical or not – particularly without the precondition of Iran’s
compliance with the demands of the international community – has not proven
successful to date. The Iranians seem to dictate the pace, while the West
follows suit. Things should, however, be the other way around as Iran does not
abide by international rules. To “reward” the Islamic Republic with business
deals and increasing trade relations seems wrong on so many
Europe has a submissive attitude towards Iran and its nuclear
weapons development program, and this needs to change! Critics argue that
Germany is a major key to solving the Iranian nuclear and human rights
crisis. How do you analyze German-Iranian relations?
What happened with
regard to the German hostages in Iran is symptomatic of Germany’s overall
relationship with Iran. [She is referring to Marcus Hellwig and Jens Koch, two
German journalists seized by the Iranian government in mid-October for
interviewing family members of Sakineh Mohammad Ashtiani, an Iranian woman
sentenced to death by stoning for alleged adultery.] Berlin is reluctant to
impose harsh sanctions and continues to be a major trade partner of the Islamic
Republic. The German economy is reacting with caution to the possible
tightening of economic sanctions against Iran. Supposedly, Teheran would no
longer have reason to repay its debts once the guarantees for Iran
(Hermes-Bürgschaften) are further reduced, or discontinued altogether. This
would include outstanding payments in the amount of approximately 5.2b. euros;
which, in the event that they are not repaid, the Federal Treasury would have to
cover. With more than 1,900 members, the Chamber of Commerce in Teheran is among
Germany’s largest foreign trade chambers.
The hostage crisis shows how
much Germany is under pressure now: As long as Teheran holds the hostages,
Berlin will think twice about acting against the Islamic Republic and/or jumping
on Washington’s bandwagon. The German government needs to take a tougher line
and stance toward Iran.What more can the UN Security Council do to
Targeting more entities, such as IRISL, the Islamic Republic’s
Shipping Lines, and IRGC-controlled companies, as well as individuals, is vital
to the global sanctions regime. With so many regimes still critical of
Iran sanctions, it is of vital importance that these entities and individuals
are “designated” at the UN, as this can ultimately contribute to a wider
implementation of sanctions.
Of course, and unfortunately, multilateral
action is very difficult to achieve. Targeting IRGC-affiliated companies is one
effective strategy. These sanctions are, however, are just reinforcements
of previously issued sanctions, and not completely new ones. The good and
important thing about the new set of UN sanctions is the language, as it calls
upon all states to take more stringent action against the IRGC and
In addition to focusing on IRGCaffiliated
companies, the UN-sanctions are targeting  individuals [putting them under a
travel ban and freezing their assets] and requiring countries to inspect ships
or planes headed to and from Iran if they suspect banned cargo is on
However – and this is one of the weaknesses of these sanctions –
there is no authorization to actually board ships by force at sea. In addition,
Iran has proven to be very adept at obscuring its ownership of cargo vessels.
Another weakness of the new sanctions is the fact that there is a
non-retroactive requirement, which makes it very difficult to stop pre-existing
contracts.Dr. Gregor is an Austrian-born political analyst with
Réalité-EU, a NGO that mainly tracks European- Iranian economic and political
relations and advocates hard-hitting sanctions against the Islamic Republic to
force Iran’s government to cease building its nuclear weapons program.