The EU's continued appeasement of Iran comes amid a violent crackdown against civil society in the country. Human rights groups have blasted the EU for its unwillingness to hold the Iranian government to account. Pictured: Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (R) meets with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell in Tehran on June 25, 2022. (Photo by Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images)
The European Union has presented Iran with a new draft text that aims to revive the 2015 nuclear deal. The document, which has not been made public, presumably offers additional concessions to coax Tehran into rejoining the agreement.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, in a July 26 essay published by the Financial Times, wrote that time was running out to revive the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA):
"After 15 months of intense, constructive negotiations in Vienna and countless interactions with the JCPOA participants and the US, I have concluded that the space for additional significant compromises has been exhausted. I have now put on the table a text that addresses, in precise detail, the sanctions lifting as well as the nuclear steps needed to restore the JCPOA.
"This text represents the best possible deal that I, as facilitator of the negotiations, see as feasible. It is not a perfect agreement, but it addresses all essential elements and includes hard-won compromises by all sides. Decisions need to be taken now to seize this unique opportunity to succeed, and to free up the great potential of a fully implemented deal. I see no other comprehensive or effective alternative within reach."
Iranian officials responded with derision. Iran's lead nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, tweeted: "We, too, have our own ideas, both in substance & form, to conclude the negotiations which would be shared."
U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that the Biden administration was reviewing the EU's draft text: "We'll engage privately with our European allies, but again, we have been willing to accept the deal that has been on the table for some time now and Iran has not."
Since U.S. President Joe Biden assumed office in January 2021, the Islamic Republic has advanced its nuclear program to the point where it can, within a few months, enrich enough uranium for at least five atomic bombs. Iran's progress is a direct result of an American and European fixation with reversing, at any cost, the Trump administration's "maximum pressure" campaign on Iran.
U.S. President Donald J. Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018 and reimposed sanctions because, he argued, the deal gave Iran a pathway to nuclear weapons.
In April 2019, the Trump administration designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), an elite branch of the Iranian military, as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO). He also imposed crippling sanctions that targeted more than 80% of Iran's economy. The "maximum pressure" campaign was aimed at forcing Iran to accept more comprehensive restrictions on its nuclear program.
In March 2020, Joe Biden, as a presidential candidate, pledged to rejoin the 2015 deal if he were elected president.
The negotiations to revive the JCPOA have been stalled since March 2022. The main stumbling block to a final deal is Iran's demand that the Biden administration delist the IRGC, and its elite Quds attack force, as an FTO. Although the Biden administration says it has no intention of delisting the IRGC, it has repeatedly lifted sanctions to coax Iran back to the negotiating table.
Biden's reversal of the economic sanctions imposed by the Trump administration has produced alarming results.
In May 2022, for instance, Iran reached a dangerous and destabilizing threshold: its stockpile of uranium enriched to 60% reached 42 kilograms, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The Arms Control Association explained the significance:
"Crossing the threshold of 40 kilograms of 60 percent enriched uranium is significant because that is sufficient material to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a bomb, about 25 kilograms of uranium enriched to above 90 percent. Being able to go directly from 60 percent to 90 percent further decreases Iran's breakout, or the time it would take to produce a bomb's worth of weapons-grade uranium, likely to be below 10 days. This puts Iran near the threshold where it could attempt to breakout between inspections by the IAEA. If Iran were to breakout, it would still take another 1-2 years to build a bomb, but that process would be more difficult to detect and disrupt."
In June, Iran removed 27 surveillance cameras from its nuclear facilities. The move came after the IAEA censured Iran for not answering questions about uranium traces found at three undeclared sites. On July 25, Iran said that the cameras would remain turned off until the 2015 nuclear deal is restored.
In July, Iran escalated its uranium enrichment with the use of advanced IR-6 centrifuges at its Fordow underground facility. The new setup allows Iran more easily to increase enrichment levels, according to the IAEA.
Also in July, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan revealed that Iran plans to supply Russia with potentially hundreds of drones, some with combat capabilities, for its war in Ukraine.
The EU's continued appeasement of Iran also comes amid a violent crackdown against civil society in the country. Human rights groups have blasted the EU for its unwillingness to hold the Iranian government to account.
The EU appears to be sacrificing human rights on the altar of financial gain. A revived nuclear deal would result in the lifting of economic sanctions on Iran and present European companies with an economic windfall. A restored deal would also allow for resumed exports of Iranian gas and oil at a time when Europe is seeking alternatives to energy supplies from Russia.
Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), called on Borrell, Biden and other world leaders, to speak out forcefully and publicly against the Islamic Republic's violent suppression of civil society:
"The silence on human rights on the part of Borrell and the EU is deafening.... Hundreds of peaceful protesters are being arrested, with many placed in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer, while global leaders express their earnestness for a return to the JCPOA. The international community needs to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time — the nuclear negotiations should not preclude attention to the growing human rights catastrophe in Iran."
In an interview with Al-Monitor, Ali Vaez, Iran project director at the International Crisis Group, said the EU proposal falls short of Iran's expectations and is unlikely to bridge the remaining gaps between the two sides:
"It's really hard to imagine that any kind of mutually acceptable formula could be found at this stage. Although the parties are not willing to admit that the talks have failed, effectively I don't think there is a way forward. I'm almost certain that Iran will not accept the revised proposal."
In a July 21 article — "Iran: Time for a Plan B" — published by Politico, Nicola Beer and Peter Neumann argued that the EU needs a back-up plan to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon:
"After 10 months of negotiation, attempts to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — also known as the Iran Nuclear Deal — have stalled and may well end in failure....
"Europe now needs to weigh up its alternatives. If we simply cling to the idea that continued negotiations will somehow lead to resolution, we'll be sleepwalking as we did with Russia, allowing a hostile power to take advantage of diplomacy while pursuing increasingly aggressive actions against us and our allies....
"Indeed, under the hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi, Iran is increasingly out of control....
"Of course, all diplomatic efforts should still be used to facilitate a deal all parties can agree on. Lasting and sustainable peace in the region will only be possible with Iran buying in. But the European Union can't turn a blind eye to the country's current unwillingness to engage in constructive talks while escalating aggression at the same time.
"It is, therefore, time to reevaluate our approach.
"This might involve the reimposition of multilateral sanctions, which is difficult but not impossible. And, equally important, under the leadership of High Representative Josep Borrell, European governments and the EU must do much more to curb Iran's activities right here in Europe, where their government is spreading propaganda, raising money, persecuting opposition activists, and even plotting terrorist attacks.
"As long as Iran continues to oppress its own people, foment terrorism, and aid and abet Russia in breaking international law, relying on negotiations alone won't be enough.
"Europe needs to have a plan B."