by Eldar Mamedov
As the drumbeats for war with Iran grow louder, efforts are gaining momentum to discredit those politicians and officials who advocate for diplomatic engagement as a way to resolve the outstanding issues between the West and the Islamic Republic. Those who do not subscribe to President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran are routinely smeared as “apologists” for the regime in Tehran.
Although this campaign’s principal focus is in the United States, similar efforts are underway in Europe. Their all too transparent objective is to undermine the European Union’s attempts to save the faltering nuclear agreement with Iran and promote de-escalation in the Persian Gulf. Echoing the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a project is afoot to forge a new “coalition of the willing”, this time against Iran. The core of this “coalition” is to be shaped around traditional U.S. allies such as Britain (although London is not yet fully on board), alt-right governments in Italy, Hungary, and Poland, and like-minded forces in other countries. Paradoxically, these self-proclaimed “new European sovereignists” have made absolute submission to Trump a hallmark of their foreign policy—see, for example, a ridiculously exaggerated claim of the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte during the annual meeting with Italian ambassadors that “American-Italian relations are the very basis of our Republic”.
This European war party is now gearing up to derail the confirmation of Josep Borrell, Socialist Spanish foreign minister, as the designated successor to Federica Mogherini to lead EU foreign policy. Borrell will have to go through tough hearings in the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee in September. He has already drawn the ire of the war party by unabashedly espousing moderate views on Iran that echo Mogherini’s. Some Israeli and Emirati media outlets have accused him of having pro-Iranian bias. They were joined by some European voices, prominently in Borrell’s native Spain.
In a recent piece, Ramon Perez-Maura, a veteran diplomatic correspondent for ABC, a leading Spanish right-wing newspaper, attacked Ramon Blecua, a Spanish diplomat currently working for the European External Action Service (EEAS) as the EU envoy in Iraq. This was only the latest in a series of articles published by ABC, under a guise of “journalistic investigation”, in an attempt to undermine the reputation of the diplomat because of his supposed connections with Iranian intelligence. The real targets of this campaign, however, were always his political bosses at the EEAS—outgoing High Representative Mogherini and now her designated successor Borrell—and the reason is their position favouring engagement with Iran.
Perez-Maura has a long history of involvement with Middle Eastern affairs. In 2003 he was one of the cheerleaders of the decision of then-prime minister Jose Maria Aznar to support the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. In his more recent columns on the region, Perez-Maura usually aligns himself with hawkish Israeli, Saudi and Emirati positions on Iran. In some of his pieces, he has praised Mojahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a cultish Iranian dissident group formerly on both U.S. and EU terrorist lists, which also happens to be a sponsor of the Spanish far right party Vox.
In a setback for the “war party”, however, a Spanish court ruled that ABC’s pieces constituted slander against Blecua and ordered the newspaper to withdraw its allegations of his collusion with Iran, which were based on unidentified Spanish diplomatic sources and reports from Saudi intelligence. In what appeared to be a coordinated strategy, the ABC articles were used by the Washington Times and Adam Ereli, a former American ambassador to Bahrain and staunch supporter of MEK, to discredit both the diplomat and the high representative.
With such precedents, the choice of Blecua as an excuse to attack Mogherini and Borrell is not surprising. As the EU envoy to Baghdad, Blecua has not only actively worked on bilateral EU-Iraq relations, but also developed a notion of Iraq as a potential “bridge-builder” for a new security architecture in the Middle East. In this framework, in July 2019, he promoted—together with the German-based think-tank CARPO and the East-West Institute—a confidence-building event in Cordoba, Spain, bringing together European, Saudi, Iranian, Turkish, Iraqi, and Kuwaiti academics in order to discuss regional security. As LobeLog can testify, this initiative was welcomed by EEAS Secretary-General Helga Schmidt as a contribution to the EU’s inclusive approach to the region. It was ratified during the Mogherini’s visit to Iraq on July 13, 2019, in which she and her Iraqi counterpart Mohamad Alhakim reconfirmed their shared commitment to de-escalation and dialogue instead of conflict in the region. Few days later, in the European Parliament, Mogherini explicitly endorsed Iraqi efforts to engage Washington and Tehran in talks.
Obviously, any such initiatives that offer an alternative to war are anathema for those who seek to isolate Iran as a chief, if not the only, troublemaker in the region. However, as the sentence of the Spanish court shows, the “war party”—in Europe as much as in America—lacks any valid, fact-based arguments to support its case. That is the reason why it continuously resorts to all sorts of manipulation, distortions, lies, smear campaigns, and character assassination attempts.
This article reflects the personal views of the author and not necessarily the opinions of the S&D Group and the European Parliament.