Iran’s reaction to the announced US sanctions: between genuine disappointment and theatrical outrage (HAFEZ)

Iran’s reaction to the announced US sanctions is masterful – the jilted bride has just upped the stakes, and Europe has no choice but to buy the diamond ring

Iran’s reaction to the US announcement that it would pull out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that was agreed upon back in 2015 has been masterful, and once more, Europe is the biggest loser and is forced to offer as good a deal in order to reassure Teheran of its serious standing in the international community.

Iran has played its part to perfection

Iran has the right to feel aggrieved – after all, the JCPOA was supposed to bring it in from the cold and allow it to upgrade and repair its ageing economy. It was also a symbolic victory against regional opponents, namely those countries close to Saudi Arabia and Israel. However, by claiming that none of the signatories of the JCPOA were trustworthy, Khamenei has played a master-hand. On the one hand, President Rohani tries to reassure the rest of the JCPOA community that Iran will continue to uphold its part of the bargain. On the other hand, Khamenei warns the same community that he does not trust them. The result is tactically brilliant, for, instead of turning tearfully towards Europe to ask them to uphold their end of the deal (which is tantamount to handing over the initiative) instead, Iran has forced the rest of the JCPOA to reassure Teheran and the private sector of their intention to maintain the current deal.

The US has effectively dealt Europe an economic and geopolitical blow, without it costing a dime

better than the current wrangling over trade tariffs on steel and other EU imports, the US decision to pull out of the JCPOA and impose renewed sanctions on Iran and any third party trading economically with the Islamic Republic is also masterful. Indeed, the US has not only blocked any EU attempt to expand economically in Iran (at a time, when the EU needs it in order to be able to appear strong despite the tariff disputes) but has also damaged the EU’s standing with those countries close to Saudi Arabia and of course Israel. Now, the EU will have to accept any trade deals with those countries in order to reaffirm its commitment of not letting Iran gain too much power in the region – that of course puts the EU in a very weak position.

Russia and China are powerful enough to circumvent any long-lasting trade difficulties with Iran

Of course, the US sanctions-to-be could also impact Russia and China’s dealings with Teheran. However, from past experience (think back to the UN sanctions on the sale of SA300) Russia and China will find ways to circumvent the trade difficulties and have proven their strategic loyalty towards Teheran at the UN and in Syria, and whilst the animosity between the US, China and Russia is undoubtedly present, the US cannot take them all at once. Recent signals towards China suggest a willingness to appease at least temporarily, whilst the decision to specify that US attacks on Syria would not target Russian installations also shows Washington’s prudence and realism (notwithstanding the genuine belief in Washington circles that Moscow is acting aggressively). In reality, the US wishes to contain the “Iranian problem” to the Middle East, where it knows that it can count on a number of significant allies.

Europe has to decide whether it still wishes to be considered a political midget incapable of standing up for itself

Despite the claims of France’s Emmanuel Macron of wishing to discuss possible additional inspections or checks on Iran’s ballistic program, Iran knows that the rest of the JCPOA will not risk jeopardizing their respectability (especially Europe’s) by changing the terms of the deal. This leaves Europe in particular at a cross-road: either it accepts the sanctions, and thereby forfeits its credibility and real-life power, or it tries to ignore the sanctions with all the economic ramifications and political backlash that such a move will create. Despite the difficulty of the second option, if Europe is to gain any weight in the Middle East and appear as a separate more neutral western entity in the region, it has to choose it. In other words, Europe has to buy the diamond ring for Teheran’s finger.