In May, when Tehran announced that it would no longer abide by the limits set by the 2015 nuclear agreement on its enrichment of uranium, Europe found legal excuses not to react. When, earlier this month, the Islamic Republic went a step further, renouncing any limits on enrichment, the EU—led by France and Germany, both parties to the deal—at last initiated a formal process that might lead to the re-imposition of sanctions. Bobby Ghosh comments on the dangers of European apathy:
In their anxiety to keep the deal alive, and give their companies access to business deals worth hundreds of billions of dollars, the Europeans lost sight of [the deal’s] purpose: to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear threat. The possibility of action was renewed when Iran stepped up enrichment, but Europe used the letter of the deal as an excuse to do nothing even as its spirit was being flouted.
Their reward from the regime in Tehran has been only scorn. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has derided Europe’s efforts to salvage the [nuclear agreement], dismissing them as a “joke,” and warning his countrymen to “give up all hope” that these would amount to anything.
Even now that Europe has acted, it could be weeks before sanctions go into effect, giving European nations ample opportunity to back down. Ghosh wonders if they will:
France seems to cling to the idea that the deal might yet be saved by discussion. Britain has come around to the Trump administration’s view that the deal is dead, and that a new one must now be negotiated. Absent the sudden excavation of a backbone, the most likely outcome is more dithering.
From Iran, meanwhile, has come only more—and more open—blackmail. Even President Hassan Rouhani, often touted as the regime’s kinder, gentler face, has descended to bald-faced threats. If the EU pressures Iran on its enrichment program, he said, “tomorrow, European soldiers may also be in danger.” As of this writing, the Europeans have not responded to Rouhani. Their hands, one imagines, are occupied with more wringing.