A member of Iran's army speaks with a visitor as they stand next to the Iranian Yasser ballistic bomb during a war exhibition to commemorate the anniversary of Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), in Baharestan square near the Parliament building in southern Tehran .
(photo credit: REUTERS/MORTEZA NIKOUBAZL)
Nine months after the Trump administration pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, it seems that the EU is finally holding a serious negotiation with Iran over its ballistic missile testing and global support of terrorism.
Last week, France announced that it would impose new sanctions on the Islamic Republic if it did not make concessions regarding its ongoing ballistic missile tests.
This weekend, Germany banned flights by Iran’s Mahan Air airliner due to its ongoing involvement with exporting weapons and terrorism to Syria.
Tehran threatened to reevaluate its relations with each country – a euphemism for leaving the nuclear deal and potentially other actions.
All of this also comes only three weeks after the EU announced fresh sanctions on an Iranian intelligence unit and two individuals over alleged assassination plots on European soil.
Once on the EU’s terror list, those individuals and the intelligence unit’s financial assets were frozen.
But France and Germany actions within days of each other, also came during the same week that they made a different key announcement.
Their other announcement was that the EU was nearly ready to rollout a new plan to promote trade with the Islamic Republic, which would circumvent US sanctions.
Before the US pulled out of the Iran deal in May, it was negotiating with the EU about trying to coordinate pressuring Iran to fill loopholes in the deal.
The EU seemed onboard with trying to fill two – reducing Iranian global terrorism and getting it to stop its regular stream of ballistic missile testing.
The other issues that the US wanted to address were not part of the package or because the Trump administration felt that the EU was moving too slowly. Therefore, it decided to break with the EU and confront Tehran alone.
But nine months later it seems that the EU is getting serious with Iran with a very clear carrot and stick approach.
On one hand, the EU is saying that they have stuck with Iran for nine months, and in doing so, have angered the Trump administration.
Further, the EU is saying that it is ready to stand with Iran even more strongly by operating a special purpose vehicle (SPV) which would promote non-US trade, a form of bartering for goods, that would be difficult for the US sanctions to end.
Yet, at the same time, France, Germany and the EU, just threw down the gauntlet to Iran about ballistic missile testing and continuing flying weapons to promote terror and instability in Syria.
What has caused the EU’s change of heart? It would seem to be a combination of Iran’s readiness to carry out terrorist attacks on French soil in June, along with a recognition that Tehran’s repeated threats about leaving the nuclear deal have only been bluffs.
Iran’s terrorist attacks on French soil seemed to have convinced France and other EU countries that the Islamic Republic is lying about its ballistic missiles and about promoting instability in Syria.
Also, even if the EU believed Iran was lying before, it has acted in a way that could lead to confrontation out of fear of Tehran’s threats to walk out of the nuclear deal.
Seeing for nine months that Iran has been bluffing and anger over its terrorism on European soil may have finally pushed the EU to a point where it was ready to risk confrontation.
Will the EU follow-through on further sanctions if Iran does not change its behavior? Will Iran leave the deal if the EU does press it harder? If Iran makes minor changes, will the EU back down on its threats, and move forward on trade with Iran that undermines US sanctions?
The answers to these questions are far from clear. But the US played all of its cards in the standoff with Iran months ago. EU-Iran interactions are emerging as the new focal point, which may shape future relations.
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