European Allies Fail to Support US Effort to Reinstate Sanctions on Iran

'To side with the Russians and the Chinese on this important issue ... is really dangerous': Pompeo
August 29, 2020 Updated: August 30, 2020

The U.S. effort to renew the arms embargo against Iran set to expire on Oct. 18 met with opposition from its European allies, France, Germany, and the UK. However none of them supports giving Iran the opportunity to buy and sell weapons, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview with Fox News.

For almost two years, the United States “has made every diplomatic effort” to renew the arms embargo against Iran. On Aug. 21, the United States officially requested that the United Nations restore UN sanctions on Iran that had been lifted by a UN Security Council Resolution adopted in 2015, which also endorsed the Iran nuclear deal.

This request was met with criticism by European signatories of the Iran nuclear deal. The E3 countries—France, Germany, and the UK—refused to support the U.S. initiative because it withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in 2018.

High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell
High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell holds a press conference in Brussels, Belgium, on May 26, 2020. (Pool/Getty Images)

The EU top diplomat Josep Borrell said in a statement that the United States can’t request the snapback of sanctions for the same reason.

“I will continue to do everything possible to ensure the preservation and full implementation of the JCPOA by all. The JCPOA remains a key pillar of the global non-proliferation architecture, contributing to regional security,” Borrell said.

The United States requested the sanction snapback on Iran a week after the UN Security Council failed to pass a U.S. resolution to extend arms embargo on Iran indefinitely. China and Russia voted against the resolution while 11 of 15 members of the Security Council abstained, including France, Germany, Britain, Belgium, and Estonia. Only the United States and the Dominican Republic voted for the resolution.

Pompeo said in an Aug. 21 interview with Fox News that “every world leader, every one of my counterparts tells me that America is doing the right thing” with regard to not allowing Iran to obtain conventional weapons after the arms embargo expires.

“So for them not to stand up and tell the world publicly at the United Nations, yep, this is the right thing, it’s incomprehensible to me. To side with the Russians and the Chinese on this important issue at this important moment in time at the UN, I think, is really dangerous for the world,” he said.

The Trump administration, however “will make sure that the Islamic Republic of Iran doesn’t have the hundreds of billion dollars that would flow from being able to sell weapon systems to become an arms dealer around the world,” Pompeo said.

Why Did Europe Not Support Sanctions Snapback?

Iran missiles
A display featuring missiles and a portrait of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is seen at Baharestan Square in Tehran, Iran, on Sept. 27, 2017. (Nazanin Tabatabaee Yazdi/TIMA via Reuters)

Alex Vatanka, director of Iran program and senior fellow of the Frontier Europe Initiative at the Washington-based Middle East Institute, told The Epoch Times that the European reaction “could have been prevented.”

“Everything that we knew for months in advance suggested that Russia and China certainly would veto it. And the Europeans were saying they will not support,” he said. The United States “does not have the legal right to do snapback” because it left the Iran nuclear deal in 2018.

The Trump administration wants to kill the nuclear deal, Vatanka said, but the Europeans don’t because they believe there is no better alternative to it. Therefore they didn’t support U.S. efforts.

“Everyone knows that Iran is a player in the region that is often acting in a way that undermines stability in the Middle East,” Vatanka said.

“But the Europeans also know there are other countries in the Middle East that are acting like Iran, and therefore, the Europeans are taking more of a holistic and big picture view of all the countries in the region that are involved in the various conflicts,” not just Iran, Vatanka said.

Europeans believe the JCPOA “was the best deal that could have been reached” and want to preserve it, he added.

“The Europeans can hope from their perspective” that after the election, either President Donald Trump will change his policy toward Iran or Joe Biden will go back to the Iran nuclear deal, Vatanka said. “And then the Americans and Europeans can … get together and put pressure on Iran and … its import or export of the weapons.”

“President Trump, Europeans, others who are concerned about Iranian behavior in the region need to realize that they need to get together, the Western alliance needs to get together. That’s the only way the Iranians really take it seriously, when they feel that the West is united.”

“The approach by the United States has been very muscular, too muscular,” Vatanka said. The United States needs “to soften the language” and realize that it needs to reason and say why it is good to work together against Iran. “And that was missing.”

European countries “maneuver between their concerns about Iran’s intentions and their efforts to save the JCPOA and its potential benefits,” Robert Czulda, an assistant professor at the University of Lodz in Poland and an Atlantic Council contributor, told The Epoch Times in an email.

The JCPOA was the first international accord negotiated by the EU, he said, and it proves the EU’s emerging ability to be a party in international agreements and an important actor in the international arena. Therefore the agreement is particularly important for leaders of the EU.

If the Iran nuclear deal fails, the project to build the EU’s ability to act as a global actor will also fail, Czulda added.

In addition, the European embargo on supplying conventional weapons to Iran will expire in 2023 after the presidential elections in Iran and the United States, Czulda said.

Regardless of the sanctions, European armaments producers would rather partner with Americans than sell weapons to Iran due to political reasons. Iran’s insufficient financial resources and lack of respect for intellectual property rights will also discourage them from selling weapons to Iran, he said.

However, Europeans prefer not to strain their relationship with Iran and hope that preserving the JCPOA will make developing economic cooperation with Iran possible, Czulda said. Consequently, they didn’t vote on extending the arms embargo on Iran.

“I would not expect significant arms exports to Iran any time soon, so Europe does not see this issue as important,” Czulda said. “European countries have more serious problems.”

“In the past, European countries did not have any dilemma to sell weapons to Arab states in the Persian Gulf, which later used those weapons in the controversial war in Yemen,” he said. “The EU can however exert pressure even without sanctions on European countries not to cooperate with Iran on the military technology.”