EU must stand up to US bullying Iran

31st May 2019

A week in politics is often described as a long time due to the changing landscape. The saying is attributed to former British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, but it could be virtually applied to many domestic and international situations. It seems to perfectly suit an erratic and volatile US President, Donald Trump. After being in power almost 30 months, the adage could be appropriate to characterise the wavering responses to his absurd election by some world leaders and governments.

One case in point is that Theresa May’s Government has backed down to allow the person in charge of the Earth’s biggest nuclear arsenal a state visit to the UK. It could be said to be protocol though Trump will only be the third American leader, after Barak Obama in 2011 and George Bush in 2003, to be afforded such pomp and pageantry. It is not to say that the Queen has not met most US presidents both here and in the US but not with such official status.

Hand-in-hand with the change of heart has come to a much more affable policy towards Trump to the extent of trying to appease him and many of his controversial policies. Nowhere more is this pertinent than his attempts to destroy the Iran nuclear deal after he unilaterally withdrew from the international agreement and re-imposed stringent sanctions. A year on, the President is now embarking on gunboat diplomacy by sending Patriot missile systems and an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf and moving B-52 bombers to the region.

The initial response by Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, was to revert back to siding with the hawkish administration in Washington by threatening “consequences” if Iran did not continue to comply with the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“We urge Iranians to think very long and hard before they break their deal. It is not in their interest,” Hunt said. “They need to be very clear if they don’t comply with JCPOA there would be consequences,” he said in a joint press conference with visiting American Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, seeking Britain’s support to the bullying.

Over in the House of Commons, there was a much more cautionary approach, including from interim Minister for the Middle, East Mark Field, who said that “so long as Iran keeps to its commitments then so too will the United Kingdom.”

It was “critical that we maintain an open dialogue with Iran,” he said. Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, said that it was “a deeply sad day for all of us, on all sides, who regarded the Iran nuclear deal as one of the crowning diplomatic achievements of this century and who saw it as opening a door to potential progress on all the other issues on which we have such grave problems with Iran.”

Pompeo, whose planned visit to Germany was suddenly cancelled without explanation, later crashed a meeting of European foreign ministers in Brussels in crude US style to push for a united transatlantic front against Tehran and its nuclear programme. Britain, France and Germany were the leading governments behind the ten years of diplomacy that led to 2015 Iran nuclear deal and had got together to see how they could possibly save it in the wake of US animosity. But the Secretary of State’s efforts appeared to have failed.

“The most responsible attitude to take should be that of maximum restraint and avoiding any escalation on the military side,” the EU’s chief diplomat, Federica Mogherini, said after the meeting. In a change of tone, Hunt appeared to assign equal culpability to Washington, saying the ministers were “very worried about the risk of a conflict happening by accident, with an escalation that is unintended really on either side.” What we need “is a period of calm to make sure that everyone understands what the other side is thinking. Most of all, we need to make sure we don’t end up putting Iran back on the path to re-nuclearization.”

If anything, Iran is an ideal opportunity for Europe to stand up to the many excesses of Trump’s rather idiosyncratic whims. Last year, he appointed none other than John Bolton as his belligerent National Security Adviser. He was not only the architect of the Iraq war but seems to have spent most of his career advocating regime change in most of America’s enemies, including Syria, Libya, Venezuela, Cuba, Yemen, North Korea and especially Iran.

Britain, France and Germany have all officially opposed the US attempts to scupper the Iran nuclear deal. Following the US’s withdrawal, the EU enacted an updated blocking statute intended to nullify US sanctions on countries trading with Iran. But facing the threat of US sanctions on companies doing business with Iran, it has been a commitment difficult to meet especially when there appears to be so little political will to face down Trump.

The lack of determination has repeatedly been seen from Britain with Hunt again warning Iran a few days after the EU meeting not to underestimate the resolve of the US. Rather than blaming the US as the aggressors provoking the conflict, he insisted that “if American interests are attacked, they will retaliate.” That is something that “the Iranians need to think about very, very carefully,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the World Health Assembly in Geneva.

Once upon a time, the UK used to be famous for its diplomacy, an art it seemed to often excel at. A tenet of the Islamic Revolution was to never give in to the oppressor and after 40 years, the US should have learned that the country will not be intimated though it seems Trump knows little about history.

Britain with the EU should feel strong enough to follow suit even if it is unfortunate that London is about to weaken its current alliance with its neighbours through Brexit. It also about time that Hunt and the Government, using the frequently sung ‘Special Relationship’ tune should tell the US in no uncertain terms, that UK and EU will trade with Iran under the JCPOA agreement and if US takes any action against the companies authorised to trade with Iran UK and EU will retaliate.

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