The EU’s pointless political posturing on Iran


No dentist would decide to extract a tooth, little by little, over the course of several days. For the good of the patient, it is better the operation is conducted in one smooth, powerful tug. There is no reason to prolong the agony.

And agony is what the people of Iran are about to suffer as President Trump reimposes sanctions. These will add to the day-to-day financial and social burdens that already cause them such misery thanks to the incompetent and venal rule of the ayatollahs. In November, the screw will tighten further when the US clampdown is extended to the oil and gas industry.

As Trump has made abundantly clear, what is needed is the Tehran regime’s rapid return to the negotiating table to give a solemn and binding agreement to cease its threatening, destabilizing behavior and support for terrorism and to reintegrate with the global economy. The alternative, said the President, is for the regime to continue to take its people down the path of economic isolation.

Yet the European Union seems not to care about the suffering of Iranians. It is trying to hold out against the reimposition of sanctions. It is updating a “blocking statute”, originally put in place in 1996 to protect European companies trading with Cuba in contravention of Washington’s long-standing trade embargo. It effectively forbids EU firms from complying with US sanctions, thus giving a thin level of legal cover if the Americans take action against those firms which choose to ignore them. Top executives know, however, that if their companies were sanctioned, they would be opening up a highly expensive and time-consuming mare’s nest of legal battles. In the end, Cuba and even Iran do not offer anything like the same market as the United States. Businessmen are in business to do the best business that they can. In the greater scheme of things, in a choice between Iran and America, there is no contest. Thus European car and truck giant Daimler has already announced it is suspending an Iranian joint venture.

The position taken by Brussels is almost entirely political. Of course EU companies can profit, and profit handsomely from their reentry to Iranian markets, especially if they have no US rivals to fight for contracts. But European leaders are choosing to ignore the deadly and catastrophic meddling by the ayatollahs in the affairs of their Arab neighbors, who already represent very important markets for EU goods and services. No doubt the calculation is that with Russia and China, who were signatories to the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, laughingly known as the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action”, intent on ignoring Trump and continuing to trade with Iran, the US sanctions will not work.

This is, however, a serious miscalculation. Ultimately, they will work. Russia and China may seek to become the prime movers in Iran’s economy but Beijing knows full well that America is its biggest market, access to which is already being undermined by the trade war the US President has begun. Trump tweeted Tuesday: “Anyone doing business with Iran will NOT be doing business with the United States”. The sooner sanctions drive Tehran to sign a real deal, the quicker the Iranian economy can recover. By seeking to frustrate US sanctions with its pointless political posturing, Brussels is actually prolonging the economic misery of ordinary Iranians.