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Iran: EU between a rock and a hard place

After Jerusalem and Cuba, Iran is the third foreign policy issue on which the European Union is between a hard place and a rock. And the EU may be once again going against the wishes of the United States.

Published: January 8, 2018, 7:33 am

    After years of marching in lockstep with US policies, European voters may be starting to understand that regime change in Iran would not be in their interest.

    After President Trump declared Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the UN Security Council as well as the UN General Assembly condemned the move. The US had to veto a UNSC resolution that 14 other members supported.

    The imperial think-tanks meanwhile have expressed displeasure at mild EU criticism and caution about meddling in Iran. Brookings, the premier US foreign policy lobby and influence peddler, as well as the Washington Institute, have sounded loud warnings against independent EU positions.

    Tom Wright, from the Brookings Institution tweeted his dismay: “A real moral failing here. Okay to engage Cuba but should pressure regime to liberalize. Combined with ‘both sides-ism’ on Iran, it’s been a terrible week for European foreign policy.”

    Suzanne Maloney, who calls herself an “Iran junkie” at Brookings noted: “This is a huge missed opportunity for Europe, both to use their diplomatic and economic leverage for the long-term good of Iran and to demonstrate the possibility and even utility of making common cause with Washington on Iran.”

    Michael Singh‏, also from Brookings, said: “Regrettable that preexisting gaps between the US and Europe over Iran seem to be widening due to protests – supporting human rights in Iran should be an area of transatlantic agreement.”

    Two more issue are likely to follow – Syria and Russia. With the German chancellor Merkel seemingly unable to cobble together a domestic coalition to renew her grasp on power, the French president Macron is hedging his bets on Syria.

    He tweeted on Friday: “It is neither Ankara nor in Paris that it will decide the future of the Syria. The Syrian people, including those who have fled the regime, should itself decide its future.” That is a far cry from “Assad must go!”

    In Ukraine, Poland, eager to please Washington, was one of the parties which had strongly pressed for regime change. Unfortunately, the new Ukrainian rulers are elevating groups and individuals who historically were responsible for massacring tens of thousands of Poles. Some may be starting to question the wisdom of Washington’s policies.

    The sanctions on Russia over the situation in Ukraine and Crimea have cost Germany huge export opportunities. The combination of both of these factors will likely lead to a change in the EU policy towards Russia. With the US delivering lethal weapons to the Ukraine, the EU may soon be forced to lower its exposure to the issue.

    US ambassador Haley was rebuffed by several countries including staunch US allies Sweden and France during the meeting on Friday to discuss recent protests in Iran. It turned into harsh criticism of the United States for requesting to meet on what some member states said was an internal issue for Tehran. Haley’s attempt to get no less a body than the UN Security Council to debate internal matters of a member state was dismissed as outright silly.

    The EU spoke out against any condemnation of Iran, while China’s envoy said that if Haley’s logic were to be followed consistently, the Security Council should have held hearings after the 2014 racial protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in 2011.

    The French president also expressed his misgivings. “The official line pursued by the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia, who are our allies in many ways, is almost one that would lead us to war,” Emanuel Macron told reporters, according to Reuters. It is “a deliberate strategy for some,” he added.

    The protests in Iran died down quickly, and quiet has returned to Iran’s towns and cities. Clearly the theocracy is not ripe for a Maidan style colour revolution. Though there is widespread dissatisfaction with the government, there appears to be little support in the country for regime change, and the legitimacy of Iran’s Islamic Republic is not disputed.

    EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini has invited Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to visit the European Union for discussion on the matter.

    If the EU takes up the Iran issue or Cuba, if Russia engages in the Middle East peace process and if South Korea handles the North Korea problem, Trump will be left out in the cold.


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