Europe Can’t Effectively Stop the U.S. from Reimposing Sanctions on Iran

Feb. 23 2018

At a recent European economic conference, the head of the EU’s Iran task force stated that, if the U.S. were to renew sanctions against Iran that had been removed pursuant to the 2015 nuclear deal, Europe need not go along. He cited the precedent of the 1990s, when Brussels used “blocking regulations” that shielded European companies from the effects of American sanctions on Iran and Libya. But, writes Richard Goldberg, the sanctions now in question are much tougher, and would give Europeans little choice in the matter:

[I]n 2010 . . . Congress passed a new law leveraging America’s greatest strength against the fulcrum of global commerce with Iran: financial transactions. After years of blacklisting most financial institutions in Iran for their involvement in various illicit activities, Congress recognized that it also needed to punish third parties for doing business with these criminal enterprises. Thus, it declared that any foreign bank that maintained a correspondent banking relationship with a designated Iranian bank would forfeit its banking relationships in the United States. . . .

If President Trump decided to enforce these sanctions again, banks around the world would immediately be at risk of losing their correspondent accounts in the United States. Blocking regulations might shield a company from American-levied fines, but they cannot shield a British bank from losing its access to the U.S. financial system. This time around, the downside of U.S. sanctions would far outweigh the upside of Iranian trade. . . . And while diplomats in Brussels may want to stare Trump down and see if he flinches, banks will not want to take that risk.

The British, French, and German governments could help avoid this potential crisis by taking a more thoughtful approach on the Iran deal. Agreeing to repudiate its sunset clauses would avoid a transatlantic train wreck today without violating the agreement for years to come. Demanding verification of the agreement with visits to Iranian military sites would be a step toward enforcing the deal, not breaking it.

Furthermore, nothing in the Iran deal prohibits Europe or the United States from reimposing sanctions related to any Iranian entity—even the central bank—if it is connected to non-nuclear activities such as ballistic-missile development and terrorism. That’s a view shared by both Democrats and Republicans in the United States—and given Europe’s direct security interest in curbing Iran’s missile program and regional expansion, it’s a view that European diplomats should adopt as well.

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Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: European Union, Iran sanctions, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war