Iran Deal As a Question of European Sovereignty

Federica Mogherini (Wikimedia Commons)

by Eldar Mamedov

As President Donald Trump was celebrating his four-point declaration of intentions on the “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini was addressing the European Parliament on the consequences of the US withdrawal from a real working nuclear agreement: the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran.

The debate was convened by the members of the European Parliament concerned with the fate of this signature achievement of EU diplomacy. It served to take the temperature in the chamber. This is meaningful, as the EP has a say in concrete measures the EU is promulgating to salvage the JCPOA.

Following the meeting of EU leaders in Sofia on May 18, the European Commission has updated the Blocking Statute designed to protect EU companies from the extraterritorial sanctions of the US, and of the European Investment Bank (EIB)’s External Lending Mandate, which would make Iran eligible for investment activities by the EIB. Following the adoption of these measures on June 6, the Council (representing the governments of the EU) and the European Parliament will have a period of two months to object before they enter into force. If no objection is raised, the updated acts will enter into force at the latest on August 5, just before the re-imposed US sanctions kick in.

The EU governments have, so far, demonstrated unity in rallying behind the need to save the JCPOA. The US administration, however, is ratcheting up pressure on the weak spots in the EU, such as Poland and Hungary where populist rulers have shown much sympathy for Trump’s agenda.

When it comes to the European Parliament, a minority of MEPs could trigger a vote on both or either of the measures proposed by the Commission within the two-month period starting June 6. A simple majority will determine the final result of the vote. Today´s debate showed that, even if a necessary threshold is achieved to force a vote, a solid majority of the house is behind the JCPOA and Mogherini’s efforts. Although many MEPs repeated the well-known concerns about Iran—such as its missile program, human rights record, and regional policies, including support for Syria´s regime of Bashar al-Assad and threats against Israel—even Iran skeptics seemed broadly convinced by Mogherini’s argument that the JCPOA opened the gates for dialogue to address these issues.

As an example of progress on regional dialogue, Mogherini mentioned the EU3 (France, Germany, United Kingdom) plus one (Italy) engagement with Iran on Yemen, which led to UN General Secretary Special Representative on Yemen Martin Griffiths’ meeting with Houthi rebels in Sana’a. This may be a small example, but the growing tensions around the JCPOA have led to a narrowing of space for even modest progress on the Iran-related issues of concern to the West.

A novel element in the debate was the much more assertive language used by centrist MEPs to defend not just the JCPOA, but a rules-based, multilateral order as a whole, and their identification of Trump´s reckless policies as a threat to this order. Some approached Trump´s violation of the nuclear agreement in the context of a broader transatlantic divide that includes U.S. imposition of tariffs on European goods, US withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement and global migration compact, and the sabotage of the G-7 meeting in Canada, to name but the most egregious examples. Brazen attempts to meddle in the domestic politics of EU member states—such as the public support given by the American ambassador to Germany to far-right populists and Steve Bannon´s crusade to radicalize Europe—prompted some MPs to see Trump´s America not as a long-cherished transatlantic ally but a threat to everything the EU stands for.

Tellingly, the dissenting voices came from the extreme right. Assorted euro-skeptics and populists parroted the Trump team’s talking points about the JCPOA being merely an executive agreement by an administration that is no longer in office and called on the EU to follow suit by abandoning the “dying agreement.” Although Mogherini usually never engages in debates with the extreme right, this time she made an exception. Aiming at a broader audience, she drove home the point that the JCPOA is enshrined in a UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR), and thus is part of international law, and the US unilateral withdrawal from the agreement amounts to a violation of a resolution that it itself endorsed. She then challenged the populists to explain how their calls for “European sovereignty” are consistent with their professed readiness to follow Washington, not Brussels, on the Iran deal.

The debate in the European Parliament showed once again that the battle to preserve the JCPOA far transcends the non-proliferation agreement with Iran. It is about the re-assertion of Europe´s sovereignty, defined as its ability to stand up for its interests and values and uphold an open, multilateral, rules-based international system.

This article reflects the personal views of the author and not necessarily the opinions of the European Parliament.

Eldar Mamedov

Eldar Mamedov has degrees from the University of Latvia and the Diplomatic School in Madrid, Spain. He has worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia and as a diplomat in Latvian embassies in Washington D.C. and Madrid. Since 2007, Mamedov has served as a political adviser for the social-democrats in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament (EP) and is in charge of the EP delegations for inter-parliamentary relations with Iran, Iraq, the Arabian Peninsula, and Mashreq.



  1. Mr. Mostofi, your commentary is often interesting as it allows an often discounted perspective.

    Iranian sovereignty is not so much the focus of this issue as is European sovereignty and you are right that in these deals the Iranian people are an afterthought far too often. The trouble however comes from the other side as well. In the United States most Iranian-Americans are liberals. In Israel they tend to side with the Likud party. In France the NCRI calls for regime change. Most Iranian people abroad tend to not get involved on either side. Many will pay lip service to the anti-Mullah line. As someone with parents who fled the revolution I do not blame them, but I often find people judging the issues in a vacuum when they are all interconnected.

    Governments have the right to make economic deals with governments with atrocious human rights records. In actuality human rights has very little to do with these economic deals and if nations decided to deal only with governments that shared their values and treated their people well, the international markets would collapse. This is a sad and difficult truth. The governments of China and Saudi Arabia in some cases are just as bad as Iran’s. Too often human rights has been a cynical political tool. As have questions of sovereignty.

    Neither the author of this piece nor the Europeans have love for the Ayatollah Regime, but you are right in that dealing with such a regime involves overlooking the way they treat their people to an extent. Liberals support international law, even though international law does not afford the people of the Middle East justice.

    You think of the people who suffer under the regime. While I would wager all Westerners would love for the people of Iran to have a free and democratic government, too often this promise has gone unfulfilled. If there was a button to bring democracy and freedom to Iran I imagine 98% of Westerners would press it.

    Iranians suffer under all governments. Not just their own. The sanctions put a stranglehold on the people. Their own government suppresses them. The government of Iraq waged a genocidal war against them. The governments of the US and Britain overthrew their president in the 1950s.

    You write that the government they are under is alien. I think most would disagree, but the danger is violently replacing one alien government with another.

    The author can voice support for a free and democratic Iran, but it is not up to the author or the Westerners to give it to them. The most vocal supporters of regime change have also heavily supported wars that would do nothing but harm young Iranians.

    Too many of those supporting regime change have supported war. They seem to care more about weakening Israel’s enemies than helping Iran’s people. The call for a peaceful regime change is something I think would have overwhelming support, but when couched in hostility to those who wish to open up Iran to the world is counterproductive. They’re used to being a pariah state. Why destroy any hope of bridges and open communication? Would you leave Iran’s youth to the Mullahs? Would you starve them of the essentials? Would you put your trust in foreign warmongers with no love for Iran’s people?

    This armchair revolutionary attitude harms Iran’s people just as much as the Mullahs if it isn’t thought through. It tears down the people who are working very hard to help the image of the Iranian people and give Iranians and those of Iranian descent opportunity and most importantly, a voice.

    People who wish to really free Iran up to better relations with the West, elections, and even secular government should all find a way to stay united so we could struggle for this noble goal together.

  2. Well said DOM!
    I have traveled extensively to many cities and villages in Iran for the past 20 years! It is amazing to me that the opinions of average people (well educated, semi-educated or a very little education) have been unanimous and consistent. They want to modify, change or to choose a government of their own choice by THEMSELVES without any help from foreign nationals or countries or from the expatriates. In fact some of them have expressed that they can even trust a very few foreign countries over any of the expatriates! A very deep distrust of the expatriates does exist. They think of the expats as traitors who plundered the assets and resources on their way out of the country during the revolution although they know tha it wasn’t all of the expats who were accused. The people whom I spoke to seem to know and understand their own current situation very well and for us to sympathize or even suggesting a path to take will make them to distrust us even more and I believe it will strengthen their will and resolve even greater!

  3. well-written article let’s hope Europe can stand up to American bullying and save their own credibility. The Iranian people have been betrayed by the West so many times in the past and this should not become the latest episode.

Comments are closed.