On Friday, after months of talks with Tehran over its clandestine nuclear program, Josep Borrell, the European Union’s High Representative, announced a “brief pause.”
In recent days, Western officials spoke of a window that is about to be closed “soon” but refused to say when allowing Tehran to continue its nuclear ambitions.
It seems that my European colleagues are ignoring the facts on the ground. In Iran. A new era began when Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appointed Ebrahim Raisi, unscrupulous henchman of the 1988 genocide, as the regime’s president in June 2021.
Since taking office in June 2021, Raisi’s government stalled the nuclear talks. He made serious changes in the regime’s Atomic Energy Organization, the Foreign Ministry, and Tehran’s negotiation team. Raisi’s mentor, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, rushed to the scene and praised his madcap sidekick’s actions, saying his regime is in no rush to continue talks in Vienna to revive the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Iran’s ruling theocracy started nuclear extortion by rapidly breaching its commitments under the terms of the JCPOA in 2020, brazenly demanding the West to lift all sanctions, mainly those imposed due to the regime’s terrorism despite their irrelevance to Tehran’s clandestine nuclear program.
The international community was alarmed as Tehran continued breaching its commitments, such as enriching uranium to 20%, well above the limit set in the 2015 nuclear deal, or producing uranium metal mainly used to fabricate a bomb. So, the pressure mounted, and European countries threatened Iran to send the nuclear dossier to the United Nations Security Council.
Due to decades of corruption, ineptitude, and mismanagement, Iran’s economic crunch has worsened under crippling sanctions. The bleak economy, as well as the regime’s bitter experience of the November 2019 uprising, started tempering Tehran’s willingness to face a united international front.
Fearful of public anger over a plunging economy, the regime finally came to the negotiations table. In a rather humiliating debacle, the new administration in the U.S. and their European partners tried to accept Tehran’s terms. Some diplomatic sources described Robert Malley, the US Special Representative for Iran, as “the most dovish official we’ve ever seen.” According to an article on Spectator in January 2022, Americans “amazed international participants by tabling a proposal that was so generous that the Iranians had to rub their eyes to believe it.”
Instead of cooperating with the international community, the Iranian regime exploited this relatively weak approach and demanded further concessions. The new administration in the U.S. apparently is willing to wrap up the deal with Tehran and claim victory, to cover up its awful withdrawal from Afghanistan. This turned the mullahs in Tehran greedier.
In 2020, Tehran made a great deal of fanfare about its “Look to the East” policy and used it as leverage in nuclear talks. By auctioning the country’s national resources, the mullahs in Tehran signed “strategic” agreements with China and Russia in a bid to have their support during negotiations.
While Russia appeared to be supporting Iran’s stance during nuclear talks, many of the regime’s insiders warned that Moscow is not a “reliable” partner.
Then came Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Raisi rushed to support Putin. His action caused a lot of stir within the regime, with some experts warning that this “immature” support of Russia could endanger the ongoing talks in Vienna.
While many Western diplomats spoke of an “approaching deal” with Tehran, Russia turned the tables, demanding written assurances from the U.S. that the current international sanctions on Russia would not prevent Moscow from doing business with Tehran. Tehran immediately denounced Moscow’s demands.
Putin and Iran’s dictator Ali Khamenei opted that they could easily attain their malign objectives in light of the wrong policy of appeasement and the EU’s need for fossil energy. Yet, the people’s resistance in Ukraine turned the tide of war and ultimately resulted in crippling sanctions against Russia.
So, Putin, who feared before the war that the return of Iranian oil and gas to the market would drive down prices and saw the regime as his rival in the European gas market, decided to turn the negotiating table, demanding assurance to do business with Iran.
This is rather an absurd claim, as trade volume between Iran and Russia pales to Moscow’s huge financial transactions with Israel and Arab countries, who strongly oppose the revival of the highly flawed JCPOA.
In a nutshell, Khamenei bet on a dead horse. Perhaps he would have to look somewhere else as his “look to the East” policy proved wrong.
So, Tehran is in a deadlock. It should either beg Russia to setback from its demands, which is unlikely to happen due to Moscow’s increasing international isolation. Or Iran’s ruling theocracy should accept a humiliating debacle and accept Western countries’ terms. Khamenei and his regime are neither capable of confronting Russia nor accepting Western powers’ terms.
The Iranian regime faces a restive society and sees another uprising on the horizon. The regime’s grip on power, after eight significant uprisings, is very fragile. This is the reality that our leaders in Europe and the U.S. should understand.
Giving any concessions to Tehran only emboldens the regime and sends the message of weakness to all authoritarian regimes like Russia. Now, the question is, would the West repeat the mistake it made in World War II or learn from its past?
Winston Churchill once said: “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile—hoping it will eat him last.” Western democracies should not feed the crocodile. They should show some spine.
Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a professor of atomic and nuclear physics, was vice-president of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014. He is President of the International Committee In Search of Justice (ISJ)