While European powers – the UK, Germany and France – are officially trying to ‘salvage’ the Iran nuke deal, the fact of the matter is that they have already sold out the deal to the US And while European officials continue to visit Tehran, they are not doing this to convince Iran of staying in the deal; their primary purpose has been to convince Iran of the importance of accepting core demands of the US and re-negotiate the deal. It is obvious that the European states have, although they officially continue to emphasize the importance of the deal, already succumbed to the US as far as the desire to re-negotiate the deal is concerned. As such, while British Middle East envoy was recently in Iran to discuss the crisis and salvage the deal, it was the UK that recently deployed UK Special Boat Service (SBS) frogmen to the Persian Gulf. Apart from these, elite commandos and highly-trained Royal Navy divers, who specialize in defusing explosives, have also been sent there to support the SBS to potentially protect British ships from Iranian attacks.
What this development shows in nutshell is that the British authorities believe, just like the US., that Iran is provoking attacks in the Gulf and that Iranian behaviour is unacceptable, completely overlooking the fact that Iran is still in the deal and that it is the US. that has violated the deal and imposed unilateral sanctions on Iran and that the core cause of the Gulf crisis is the US, not Iran.
Unsurprisingly then, Iran was reasonably disappointed at what British minister, Andrew Murrison, had to offer them in Tehran. Kamal Kharrazi, the head of Iran’s Strategic Council of Foreign Relations that works under Khamenei, said that meeting was “repetitive” with nothing new to offer, reiterating also that the three European countries, France, Germany and the UK “did not take serious actions” to save the JCPOA. Equally unsurprising was to see Murrison blatantly accusing Iran for oil attacks in the Gulf, adding UK believes Iran “almost certainly bears responsibility for the attacks”, meaning thereby that if the US retaliates for these [alleged] attacks, the UK will be ‘forced’ to side with it, since Iran, in such a scenario, would have failed to ‘correct’ its behaviour in the Gulf.
The UK isn’t the only European country that believes that Iran was behind the oil attacks. Germany’s Merkel, too, believes that there is “strong evidence” that suggests Iran as the culprit. With Germany, too, having fell in line with the US over Iran, the recent visit of German foreign minister to Iran more or less constituted a representation of US interests than German concerns vis-à-vis the deal or what Iran is widely thought to be doing.
An important development has been an undeclared imposition of ‘no fly zone’ over the Gulf. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has ordered all of the US airlines to avoid the Gulf because of an “Iranian threat”. Accordingly, among the airlines that have followed US dictate include those of the UK (British Airways), Germany (Lufthansa), and France (Air France), adding further credibility to the contention that Europe is actually playing with Iran and that it is, in reality, clearly siding with the US and is in the middle of preparing for a war in the Gulf. A no-fly zone is not a decision taken during peaceful times.
Europe’s tacit capitulation is a result of an active strategy of persuasion followed by the US officials. Acting secretary of defence and Pentagon chief Mark Esper, a well know hawk, said, on his way to Brussels, recently that he wants to advance the idea of forming a broader international coalition to deter Iran and compel its leaders to return to the negotiating table for nuclear talks. His visit to the NATO countries was aimed at reinforcing a message delivered the previous week by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who met with Saudi and Emirati leaders and discussed options about countering any military threat from Iran by building a broad coalition that includes Asian and European countries; hence, Europe’s reluctance to implement its commitments according to the Iran nuke-deal and its willingness to impress upon Iran to somehow accept US demands so that they can continue to do business with Tehran.
Making his intentions crystal clear, Esper further said his goal is, first of all, to convince allies to express outrage over Iran’s activities in the Gulf. Secondly, he said, he wants allies to support “any range of activities” vis-à-vis conflict with Iran. While “any range of activities” officially includes “talks”, Esper is someone who is known as an advocate of an aggressive military preparation and its active use on a global level to protect and project US interests. Talks are, therefore, going to be lesser concern, if a concern at all.
Another reason for Europe’s quick fall to the US dictate is that they the US has, as circumstance show, been able to persuade European countries of the “irrefutable” evidence of Iranian involvement in the Gulf attacks. As a matter of fact, the US is trying to show the Europeans that Iran threatens them as well and they must protect the Strait of Hormuz. For instance, Trump has recently said that European countries must “pay up” if they want security in the Strait.
An alternative, on the other hand, to “paying up” might just be standing with the US when the push comes to shove. The US is thus actively seeking to enlist European support against Iran and has already achieved reasonable success in this context, leaving Iran with little to no belief in Europe’s ability to avert crisis and normalize the situation.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.