US President Donald Trump’s pullout declaration from the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran is tantamount to a declaration of war in the Middle East, which would lead to the change of the regime in Tehran. However, the EU-American rift over the deal would weaken the sanctions on Iran if imposed.

But why are American allies in the EU opposing deal pulling? It can be attributed to changing political alignments in the Middle East region after the 2011 Arab Spring, and the Western drive to reach a deal that serves EU interests as many of the European states have been undergoing rigid economic conditions. These factors prompted the EU to sign the deal alongside China and Russia in 2015.

However, the agreement has not changed Iran’s behavior and that former US President Barrack Obama’s administration was pathetic in signing such a deal along with the UK, Russia, China, France, and Germany.

The Americans have sought to ignite fire under Iranian feet by pushing the government into new negotiations with new rules and conditions while Europeans have sought to keep the agreement and to add some amendments to the deal. The EU has repeatedly declared support for the deal, rejecting American pugnaciousness and confrontational attitude.

The EU advocacy for the deal stems from economic and commercial factors as Europeans fear unexpected hindrances and obstacles to affect their penetration to the Iranian market. Thus, the EU states give priority to economic interests in the Iranian market to secure more commercial contracts. However, political, security and human rights files, are less important to them compared to Americans.

If there is no win-win formula for the EU, it is not expected that the EU would ever accept any amendments to the deal

– Shehab Al-Makahleh

Geopolitical factor

While Washington focuses on keeping the geopolitical factor in the Middle East unchanged, rejecting Iranian expansionist policies, opposing Iranian hiking influence in the region which threatens stability of the Middle East, and countering Tehran’s support for armed movements and militias in Arab countries, the EU turns deaf ear to this risk.

Thus, Trump’s administration calls on Tehran to set aside its expansionist agendas before talking about any economic openness. At the same time, the US urges the EU to follow the American approach when opening dialogue with the Iranian government; in other words, not to prioritise their economic and commercial requirements to political and military ones.

The EU sounds not interested in the Middle East issues and concerns are only restricted to economic regardless of the repercussions and ramifications to the Middle East region.

To date, Trump seems to have achieved a partial victory; however, this can be a double edge weapon that can backfire against American interests any moment. He has been able to move the European rhetoric machine against Iran at some point vis-à-vis Tehran’s political and military interventions in the Middle East and with regard to Iranian ballistic missiles.

The question remains whether American pullout of the nuclear agreement cause rift between the US and the EU? It has been clear that since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's presentation of documents related to Iranian nuclear program about Tehran’s breach of the nuclear agreement, Trump and his hawkish administration have taken their decision to cancel the deal and started to discuss scenarios of imposing sanctions on Iran.

Some experts believe that Trump has given a precious gift to the Supreme Leader of Iran and the hawks of the Iranian government because he ended the power of the reformers and the Iranian opposition. Both the hawks and the hardliners in Iran have been awarded a golden opportunity and would have in the near future the upper hand to Hassan Rouhani and his reformist wing.

Trump’s decision was not a surprise as he previously announced that the multilateral deal was an unmitigated disaster which has not taken into consideration the Iranian ballistic missile and its other military capabilities.

The rift between the EU and the US over the deal is that any sanctions on the Iranian economy will harm the European markets, which have won many contracts in Iran after the 2015 deal. Thus, Trump's declaration could harm investor’s confidence in Iran and freak out larger businesses to get out of Iranian volatile market.

Apparently, Tehran and Washington have no economic or commercial ties at present; however, this is not the case with the European partners as they seek to maintain Iranian economy vibrant and buoyant. 

Why the EU, China and Russia support the deal?

Trump has pulled out of the deal leaving the EU, Russia, China and the UK at stake to negotiate a new deal that better serves their interests in Iran. Statistics show that trade exchange between the EU and Iran reached $9.5 billion in 2015, hiked to $17 billion in 2016. In 2017, trade exchange recorded $25 billion.

The major companies benefitting from Iran are French, Dutch and German including Total, Airbus, Renault and Shell amongst others. China, on the other hand, is deemed the largest trade partner to Iran. In 2017, trade turnover between Iran and China stood at US$38 billion, accounting 23 per cent of Iran’s total trade. Russian Iranian total trade amounted to US$1.8 billion in 2017.

If there is no win-win formula for the EU, it is not expected that the EU would ever accept any amendments to the deal.

However, China and Russia will gain more from the pullout of the Americans from the multilateral nuclear deal as this will give both Moscow and Beijing diplomatic leverage over Washington’s as both capitals would present themselves as the credible mediator to fill the vacuum of the US in the Middle East.

Article published in Al Arabiya:

Published in Tribune

S'agit-il vraiment de l'accord historique attendu par tous ?

Oui, s'il aboutit effectivement à un accord définitif le 30 juin. Il mettra fin à trente-cinq ans de relations conflictuelles entre Téhéran et Washington, réintégrant l'Iran dans le concert des nations et assurant le renoncement à l'arme nucléaire de ce dernier. Les protocoles de contrôle, pour éviter des tricheries de Téhéran, comme celles qui lui avaient permis de construire le site souterrain de Fordow, me semblent très sérieux, très précis. 

Le calendrier de la levée des sanctions fait-il question ?

Le texte est ambigu sur ce point, car il ne précise pas clairement quand elles seraient levées, hormis une mention du respect par l'Iran de ses engagements. En outre, il parle de  « sanctions », indéterminées, et non pas  « des sanctions » dans leur ensemble. Il s'agit de ce que les diplomates appellent des « ambiguïtés constructives », volontaires, qui permettent de ne pas bloquer la dynamique de l'accord, à charge ensuite d'être dissipées en juin. A noter au passage que les Etats-Unis maintiennent quoi qu'il arrive les sanctions qui ont été prises au nom de la lutte contre le terrorisme ou pour les droits de l'homme. Les rivalités demeurent. D'ailleurs, l'Iran ne renonce pas à sa politique d'influence au Moyen-Orient, notamment en Syrie ou au Liban. On est encore très loin du « grand bargain » que certains pronostiquent entre Washington et Téhéran ou d'un renversement d'alliances. Les Saoudiens n'ont d'ailleurs pas réagi de manière critique à l'annonce de l'accord. 


Les tenants d'une ligne dure peuvent-ils encore faire échouer les négociations ?

Ca leur sera difficile, même s'ils disposent toujours d'une capacité de nuisance. A Téhéran on entend à peine les adversaires du compromis et le ministre des Affaires étrangères, Javad Zarif, a reçu un accueil triomphal. Aux Etats-Unis, les républicains alliés aux faucons parmi les démocrates auront du mal à faire voter de nouvelles sanctions contre l'Iran à la majorité des deux tiers du Congrès nécessaire pour surmonter le veto présidentiel. Le gouvernement israélien n'a pas renoncé à faire échouer l'accord, mais ne dispose pas de beaucoup de leviers pour cela. 


Propos recueillis par Y. B., Les Echos

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Published in Interviews

Thursday evening in Iran people flooded the streets to celebrate what looks to be, at last, a tangible and positive result of the long and hard negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program with the “P5 +1” (five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany). Columns of cars were honking; many were carrying photos of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani; and in homes and shops, broadcast live, there was Barack Obama speaking about the results of the talks. It didn’t hurt the festive mood that the agreement was announced on the Iranian holiday of “sizdah de dar” the last day of Noruz celebrations (the ancient Persian New Year).

The revelry was a mass release from the fatigue of over 30 years of sanctions and resulting economic malaise with no end in sight. Sanctions, no matter how “smart,” do little to punish governments and regimes but are quite effective at making life hard for the average citizen. It was not only Iranians, however, anxious about the results of the talks: the consequences of failure, of such drawn-out bargaining ending only with both parties packing up and returning to the status quo, would be unpredictable but certainly negative for regional and world politics. And of course, that is still a possibility. Rouhani’s rating would drop; perhaps he would have to resign in favor of a radical conservative candidate, the tact of dialogue discredited (as it was to an extant after ex-president Khatami’s attempts at reconciliation with the West failed – which helped to pave the way for the politics of Ahmadinejad). It’s difficult to imagine how such a turn of events could improve the already badly deteriorated situation in the Middle East. Across the ocean, archconservative elements in the United States would seize on a negotiations failure, especially in election campaigns, as supposed proof that the stick, and never the carrot, is the only really valid means of achieving foreign policy goals.

Critical for Iran will be the cancellation of oil exports sanctions, which should be lifted after the final agreements scheduled for June 2015. In addition to restrictions on the oil, finance and banking sectors, and sanctions against individuals, the fate of a slew of lesser sanctions will be determined gradually under international monitoring of implementation by Iran of agreed upon conditions. In case of violations or nonfulfillment, sanctions are to be maintained or reestablished.

Despite the fact that the outcome of the negotiations has been a sensation for many, most Iranians I interacted with were confident a deal would be reached. At the opposite end, many Eastern Studies peers expressed strong doubts that anything new was on the horizon. After all, there have been attempts at negotiation prior to this, some of them rumored, that failed or never even got off the ground. Opinions vary as to what drove both sides to stay at the negotiating table and hammer out a consensus this time — amid accusations of Iranian non-disclosure, the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists, opposition to the talks within the Washington and Tehran political establishments and the usual heated rhetoric between the two, to name but a few factors that might have derailed the project. There is speculation that some in the West are keen to prevent a strong Russia-Iran alliance, which in recent years has often seemed on the verge of materializing but never quite lived up to expectations. Some observers go further, seeing in the agreement the beginning of a sea change in global alliances, perhaps at the expense of Saudi Arabia and Israel. On another level, many Europeans are famously unenthusiastic about the sanctions policy on Iran and may have exerted some pressure. And Washington’s experience in Iraq may have convinced it that Iran was an important regional player that should be cultivated rather than ostracized. Iran, for its part, while determined to hold out, was certainly weary of the partial strangulation. Most probable is that multiple factors coalesced, that the moment had simply come, with enough distance between the present and the Shah’s US-encouraged excesses, the aiding of Saddam Hussein’s army, the storming of the US Embassy and the long litany of complaints on both sides. 

Let us not forget Russia’s contribution to the success of the talks, which many point out, not without reason, could end up weakening Russia’s geopolitical position. The agreement may indeed be followed by increased rapprochement between Iran and the West and a larger role for Iran in the region and as a supplier of natural resources, perhaps as an alternative to Russia. But such zero-sum formulations would be the mark of a short-term game, and Russia rightly continued to aid and support the talks through to the end. Russia and Iran should use this as an opportunity to forge an alliance not out of necessity, from being backed into a corner, but through proactive strengthening of cultural and economic ties that will serve as a firmer, deeper foundation for relations in the long run.  


Published in Commentaries
Friday, 03 April 2015 12:20

The Nude Realities behind the Nuke Talks

The Nuke talks between the P5+1 and Iran had continued to inspire a settlement when the “self-imposed” deadline seemed insignificant. After all it was an arbitrary choice only to give time to another congressional decision regarding whether to impose and implement any additional sanctions against Iran or completely or partially lift the existing ones. Moving beyond the 31st of March only showed how committed both sides have been to the cause, and showed that even though opinions differ, the objectives of both parties are the same. In fact when a tentative settlement was announced on April 2nd, the compromise between Iran and the P5+1 further inspired hope for the June 30 meeting.


The Meaning of the “Significant Progress” is not an April’s Fool

No tricking and no wasting time on the way were desired. Iran and the P5+1 continued to be hard-liners at the beginning. They did not seem to give in or give up. However, even though the talks were still far from reaching a final result, according to the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, as of April 1st there was already “significant progress”.

In Lausanne all aspects of the Iranian nuke program was scrutinized. The P5+1 on behalf of the world community they represent wanted to make sure  the scope of uranium enrichment Iran would be allowed to conduct, where stockpiles of enriched uranium should be stored, proposed limits on Iran's nuclear research and development. Iran demands the right to free research and development into advanced nuclear centrifuges after an initial 10-year period covered by the potential agreement expires.

Dismantlement of sanctions is linked to the concessions Iran is willing to make, in terms of time, enrichment and the centrifuge capacity as well as the transparency of the operation locations and operations in its nuke program. Although sure about the words of its opponents, Zarif still wants to see some action to save Iran from the painful economic sanctions. Especially the real smart ones like the ban on the “swift operations”, which cripples Iran’s foreign trade and pushes both Iran and its trade partners to engage in illicit operations to by- pass this difficulty, must be the first ones to be lifted. The P5+1 promises to determine the timing and conditions for the removal of sanctions, with the condition that if Iran fails to comply with the agreement sanctions are to be reemployed without any prior notification.

What More Does Iran Need to Do to Ensure the World?

It has long been the Iran against the West when it came to ensuring the world that Iran’s nuke program does not constitute any threat to its immediate neighborhood and to the world. It has civilian objectives and was launched to reduce Iran’s its own dependence on fossil fuels in terms of energy. In a country, where there is a rich capacity to employ advanced technology, nuclear energy can be used in other areas like nuclear medicine, and promises Iran to be a regional “health hub” within a decade or two.

All sides after the he April 1st meeting of Lausanne agreed that they are only a short distance away from the finishing line. Nobody nullifies the truth that it was a shoulder to shoulder advancement to the target. They all point out that a robust deal must be reached before they conclude talks. The agreement if reached needs to be verifiable too. The P5+1, the two among them being closer to the Iranian position is sure about solidness of the promises it is likely to give. It is Iran and its conducts, intentions, operations and rhetoric they are not so very sure about. 

A White House spokesman clearly verbalized on April 1st, what is expected of Iran immediately before the P5+1 gives the right signals to their respective governments to lift the Iranian sanctions one way or another. He said “the time has come for Iran to make some decisions." Setting parameters for the issues of concern to finalize the nuke talks in June still remains easier said than done. Russia and China have always seemed to be the most supportive of Iran. However, the US, Germany, France and Great Britain had seemed to have few more deep doubts, until on April 2nd when after a sleepless night both sides reached a comprehensive agreement: Iran will close some of the centrifuges in Fardow to reduce its nuke enrichment and sanctions will be gradually lifted to return the favor.

The Difference between the Nude Reality and the Nuke Reality

Beyond the technical details, which will always remain in the core of the negotiation process as the nuke reality, there are three nude realities also expected of Iran:

  • Stop the threats against Israel in, rhetoric and preferably recognize the Israeli state in due time;
  • Stop adding fuel to fire by arming and assisting armed Shiite militia to continue the sectarian warfare in the region. Stopping proxy wars is essential to reinstitute the peace and stability in the Middle East. 
  • Even though its engagement in the proxy war against the Sunni extremism in Iraq and Syria seem acceptable and helpful by all now, Iran’s direct verbal and physical threat against the Gulf States like the Saudi Kingdom, Bahrain and the Emirates are not.

Zarif made it clear that Iran has few doubts as well about the real intentions of the P5+1 by saying on April 1st, that "the progress and success of the talks depends on the political will of the other party,” Iran and its chief negotiator are fully aware of the fact that it is not only the nuke activity of Iran, which is negotiated on the table. In fact they also know what the P5+1 is absolutely sure of what is further expected of Iran.

Despite the interim agreement reached on April 2nd, for Iran the P5+1 and the entire UN community that stands behind it still needs to respond to the following inquiry:

  • When there are a half a dozen nuclear nations in the Middle East, including the Taliban-nested Pakistan why should Iran be suspected of going nuke for military purposes? If Pakistan is taken as an honest broker, why should not be Iran?
  • Does Iran seem like a suicidal nation to take the risk of its own as well when making of a nuclear military strike against a neighboring country in the Middle East?

If the P5+1  cannot bring genuine responses to such simple questions then Zarif’s point about who holds the political will and who does not for an ultimate settlement should be highly regarded.

Conclusion: The Truth and its Consequence

The most important truth at this historical juncture is that there is a solid interim agreement between Iran and its P5+1counterpart as of the beginning of April 2015. This agreement is going to be the guiding light for the upcoming negotiations towards the end of June.

There is also a reality at this point that no matter what the west is not likely to use the military option against Iran after the April 2nd interim agreement.  Furthermore after coming so far, even if a deal is not completed by June deadlines will be disregarded to ensure to keep the communication channels open. 

Neither of the truth and reality mentioned above can deny another truth that Iran is not the only country in the Middle East, which holds the nuke power. But it remains to be the only one suspected of having the potential to use of it for military purposes. The conservatives in the United States, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf nations and Israel do not want to accept Iran as an honest broker. On the other hand the hard-liners in Iran are also extremely wary of a final deal, if reached and do not pay much attention to how much sanctions harm the Iranian economy. The perception of danger seems stronger than the danger itself. This is another nude rather than the nuke reality. Therefore, in the process Iran would continue to acknowledge the world is that its nuclear program has purely peaceful purposes, mostly power generation, and it continues to demand the U.S., EU, and UN to lift sanctions swiftly, even if it is done in a gradual manner.

In the process, negotiations are likely to produce ultimately fruitful consequences if:

  • Iran stops threatening Israel, possibly recognize it, and stop assisting militia against the Gulf countries.
  • It continues to engage struggle against the Sunni extremism in Syria and Iraq, without making further claims in the Iraqi territory and the Iraqi economy.

There is also the naked truth that the P5+1 on behalf of the UN community under no condition would remove sanctions. The rule for reemploying them if Tehran fails comply with the deal is also set.

There is probably going to be another strongly emphasized reality or the demand of Iran from the P5+1 and the UN community, which has not been openly discussed in public, and that is unless the Saudi Arabia and some Gulf countries were also reprimanded for supporting Sunni extremism, it would be impossible to stop proxy wars and reinstitute peace and stability in the Middle East. 

Published in Tribune