by Eldar Mamedov
Apparently even seemingly respectable media outlets occasionally peddle fake news at service of a particular political agenda, with the aim of creating a massive echo chamber that would make it appear to be “real news.” Such was the case with the Jerusalem Post’s announcement that the European Parliament (EP) has called on Iran to end its ballistic missile program. The “news” was immediately spread by the Trans-Atlantic Institute, which is the Brussels office of the American Jewish Committee (AJC).
If such language had indeed been adopted, it would have meant a step far beyond the official position of the EU on Iran’s missile program. This position—reaffirmed in the Council of the EU Conclusions on October 16, reflecting the views of the 28 Member States—merely expressed concerns about the program, but also reiterated the need to address it outside the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), AKA the Iran nuclear deal. Crucially, in the same paragraph, the twenty-eight foreign ministers stated their readiness “to actively promote and support initiatives to ensure a more stable, peaceful and secure regional environment.” This is a clear reference to the view of the EU that the Iranian missiles are part of a broader regional conflagration, and that the role of other players, such as Saudi Arabia, in the region’s troubles should not be neglected. In a similar vein, the EP, in its own 2016 strategic report on EU relations with Iran (known as the Richard Howitt report, after the British Labour MEP who authored it), expressed “concern at the development of Iran’s ballistic missile tests, which, despite not constituting a breach of the JCPOA, are inconsistent with the spirit of UN Security Council Resolution 2231 (2015).” So calling for an end to Iran’´s missile program would indeed constitute a major departure from the EU consensus position. Even if non-binding, it could be considered an element of mounting pressure for the introduction of new sanctions against Iran in case of non-compliance with this demand.
However, the EP—contrary to the Jerusalem Post‘s claim—demanded no such thing. On December 14, it adopted its annual report on the implementation of the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy covering a broad range of thematic and geographical topics. The report, drafted by David McAllister (chair of the Foreign Affairs committee), dedicated a paragraph to Iran. That paragraph reaffirms support for the JCPOA and notes that its implementation by all sides is key to global non-proliferation efforts and conflict resolution in the Middle East. In a rebuke to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to de-certify the agreement and his repeated threats to “terminate” it, the report also highlighted that the JCPOA is a multilateral agreement, endorsed by the UN Security Council, and cannot be changed unilaterally.
On Iran’s missile program, an amendment indeed was tabled by a conservative MEP calling to end it. However, negotiations between political groups have resulted in a compromise formula that acknowledged that the missiles were a “security risk,” but stopped short of calling for an end to the program, which was neither a requirement of the UNSC nor the EU position. Instead, the EP just repeated its call for Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons,” which was exactly the language of UNSC Resolution 2231. Since Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA, which blocks its path to nuclear weapons, has been certified multiple times by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), this line in fact doesn’t add anything new to the EU position.
Iran’s missile program, in conjunction with its rhetoric on Israel, is indeed a concern for the MEPs, as was evidenced, once again, during the plenary debate with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini on December 12. But so are the multi-billion arms sales by EU member states to Saudi Arabia, in violation of the EU Common Position on arms export control. In fact, the EP has three times called for an introduction of an EU-wide arms embargo against Saudi Arabia, on the grounds of mass violations by Riyadh and its coalition partners of international humanitarian and human rights law in Yemen. Problematic a player though Iran might be, it is simply not credible to blame all of the Middle East’s troubles on Iran alone.
Thus, the EP position on Iranian missiles only makes sense if taken holistically, in its regional context, and not through self-serving selective reading, spiced up with fake news.
The views represented here are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the European Parliament
Photo: the European Parliament in session in Strasbourg