Donald Trump is (according to Donald Trump) the master of the deal. Yet, as the world waits to see if Trump can strike a deal at the US-North Korea summit next week (12 June), another important nuclear deal is on the verge of collapse. In May 2018, the US decided to withdraw from the Iran deal, which Trump famously called “the single worst deal I’ve ever seen drawn by anybody”.
Europe has been scrambling to save the deal but, despite political assurances, European companies have reportedly been withdrawing from the country. Should more be done to reassure companies that have invested in Iran, or to counteract US sanctions? Or should Europe give up the Iran nuclear deal as dead?
The Iran deal will be one of the many security issues discussed on Debating Security Plus (DS+). In June, our sister think-tank, Friends of Europe, is gearing up to run a global online brainstorm designed to find solutions to today’s security challenges. From 19 June, 09:00 CEST to 20 June 20:00 CEST, the international security community will debate challenges and policy solutions. The discussions will be moderated by leading international think-tanks and organisations that will steer discussions towards concrete recommendations.
So, should Europe try to save the Iran nuclear deal? To get an answer, we spoke to Michael Oren, a member of Israel’s Knesset, deputy minister, and former ambassador to the United States. Did he think Europe should try to save the Iran deal?
It should not. Europe should change the Iran deal entirely and substitute it with a new deal that: prohibits Iran from enriching uranium, under any circumstances, as long as the current regime remains in power; that prohibits Iran from developing inter-continental ballistic missiles that could carry nuclear warheads; that prohibits Iran from supporting terror worldwide and trying to conquer the Middle East. Europe should support a deal that addresses comprehensively the multifaceted Iranian threat.
We also spoke to Dr. Mitchell Belfer, President of the Euro-Gulf Information Centre (EGIC) in Italy, to hear his thoughts. Did he think the deal with Iran was worth saving?
Actually, the short answer is: no. I don’t think that Europe should be trying to save the Iran deal, at least not in its present form. The deal does not go as far as it should have in terms of extending the breakout period for Iran [ed: the time required to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one nuclear weapon].
I think it’s also very problematic in terms of the transatlantic relationship that they’ve taken such a different approach than the United States. That’s not to say that the US is infallible when it makes policies, especially under the Donald Trump administration, but there should have been a stronger effort amongst European decision-makers to reach an accord with the US before going into a deeper relationship with Iran at the expense of their relationship with the Trump administration. Also, perhaps I could remind people that the Trump administration, for better or worse, represents the United States, and it’s the US that we’re looking to ensure our relationship with, not necessarily any particular government.
We also put the same question to Ali Vaez, Iran Project Director for the International Crisis Group. Should Europe try to rescue the Iran nuclear deal?
Absolutely. Europe should do so not because it has economic interests in Iran, which are quite negligible, but because it is in its own security interest. Without the nuclear deal, Iran will either obtain a nuclear bomb or will be bombed. Both of these outcomes will adversely affect Europe, who will feel the impact through more refugee flows and radicalisation.
This was exactly the fear articulated by one of our readers, Cristina, who is deeply worried about the possibility of military intervention in Iran along the same lines as Afghanistan, Libya, or Iraq. If we scrap the diplomatic approach, doesn’t it mean war is more likely?
How would Michael Oren respond?
I think, unlike perhaps Afghanistan, Iran is a movie that’s coming to your neighbourhood. Iran, again, is the world’s largest state sponsor of terror and its operations are global. Iran succeeded in militarising Syria, it succeeds if it completes its encirclement of the Middle East, it will weaken Europe’s allies in the Middle East, and Israel and Europe’s allies in the Middle East are what’s guarding Europe’s eastern flank. If we’re not here, Europe would be in very severe danger indeed. There is no going home here and Europe has – I would say – a paramount interest in stopping the Iranian threat on multiple fronts
What would Mitchell Belfer from the Euro-Gulf Information Centre say to Cristina?
[The Iranian deal] sought to empower civil society through sanctions relief in return for the dismantling of the nuclear programme. What’s ended up happening, however, is that the Iranian state has managed to take the money that was supposed to empower civil society and has simply spent it on foreign interventionism. If you look on paper, the level of Iran’s involvement in conflicts like Syria and Yemen has increased tremendously since the revolutionary guard has had so much more money, because ultimately they control the economy of Iran.
So, Cristina, I think it’s a very important point you raise. We do need to look at a negotiated settlement for this issue, but it has to include things other than just the dismantling of the nuclear programme. It has to be a more comprehensive arrangement in which the revolutionary guard doesn’t then take money and increase its involvement in conventional wars… Because, ultimately, we don’t want contagion in the region. We want to stop the wars in Syria, calm down the situation in Yemen, not to mention the brewing conflicts involving Iran in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. So, what we’ll need to do, as an international community, is to not only stop Iran from building weapons of mass destruction, but also to tie sanctions relief and forgiveness to an accord that Iran will not be irresponsible in its engagement with other actors, like the Houthi militias, or the newfound militias that are popping up in the Arab Gulf region.
Finally, what would Ali Vaez from the International Crisis Group say to the same comment?
If we have learned one lesson from Iraq and Afghanistan, it is that wars in that region often produce bigger monsters than the ones they aimed at neutralising. The objective of the nuclear deal with Iran was to address one area of disagreement between Iran and the West diplomatically, which could open the door for further diplomacy. If the deal collapses, we would be left with no option other than confrontation.
Should Europe try to save the Iran nuclear deal? Is the deal the best way to prevent a war in the region? Or has it perversely destabilised the region by empowering Iran financially? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!