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Tehran’s Nuclear Extortion Grow Worse as EU Refuses To Act

Iran nuclear facilities
File photo-Iran nuclear facilities

This month, the Iranian regime adopted a new delaying tactic as various Iranian officials began pushing for an entirely separate set of nuclear negotiations in Brussels, ostensibly aimed at establishing conditions for the continuation of the Vienna talks that already went through six rounds before being stalled in June. What would be the ultimate result of these preliminary negotiations?

Tehran aims to make a separation between the US and its European allies, and the Iranian regime’s mere request for such talks underscores its expectation that it can squeeze more concessions from the European Union than from a unified Western bloc.

Unfortunately, the EU leadership has given the Iranian regime ample reason to maintain that expectation, with foreign policy chief Josep Borrell even going so far as to undermine efforts that member states took to hold Tehran accountable for its nuclear extortion.

Early in 2020, Tehran declared it would no longer be complying with any of the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). In response, the three European signatories – Britain, France, and Germany, initiated a dispute resolution process that should have either enforced those provisions or re-imposed UN sanctions on the regime within a matter of months. But Borrell quickly announced the EU’s willingness to stretch out the process indefinitely, meaning that the clerical regime would be under no additional pressure after its violations than it had been before.

The EU’s conciliatory approach to the nuclear issue has persisted ever since, even now with Ebrahim Raisi’s administration that doesn’t have the “moderate” façade. Raisi has stacked his cabinet with representatives of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and has a history of human rights abuses including high-level participation in a massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in 1988.

Iran’s regime continues to defy the international community on its nuclear program

Despite all this, Borrell dispatched the deputy political director of the European External Action Service to attend Raisi’s inauguration in August. The move was no doubt motivated by a desire to maintain the status quo in hopes of resuming negotiations, and to avoid any circumstances that might obligate Western powers to change strategy. Borrell made this explicit in the wake of Tehran’s demands for new talks in Brussels, criticizing the new delaying tactics but also saying, “I don’t want to think about Plan Bs because of no… Plan B that I could imagine would be a good one.”

While Borrell has made all possible efforts to revive the highly flawed nuclear deal and continues appeasing Tehran, the time is running out for the mullahs’ regime. Iran’s economy is plagued with the regime’s institutionalized corruption, and people can hardly make ends meet. Sanctions have secondary effects on Iran’s declining economy. Iran’s rapidly declining economy has increased society’s restiveness. Iran’s inflation rate is rising daily, decreasing people’s purchasing power and increasing people’s hatred toward the regime that has created such inflation through corruption and continuing its malign activities which have resulted in the country’s international isolation.

Now it appears that the European signatories to the JCPOA are pushing back against the EU’s commitment to conciliation. Last week, representatives of all three met with the American special envoy on Iran and reportedly came to a consensus on the need for Iran to face additional consequences if its delay tactics persist. Furthermore, there are signs that this emerging Western unity is forcing the EU to come along, albeit begrudgingly.

Javid Ghorban Oghli, the former Iranian ambassador to Algeria and South Africa, admitted in an article in the state-run Arman Melli newspaper on Thursday that the regime’s foreign ministry has failed to buy time.

“A strategy that we think we can separate Europe from the United States and put pressure on Americans through Europe and pursue the issue of lifting sanctions does not seem to be the right strategy,” Ghorban Ohgli said, adding that the regime is “jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.”

“It seems that Raisi’s [foreign] strategy implemented and managed by [Foreign Minister] Amir Abdollahian and [Tehran’s top negotiator] Bagheri-Kani is not a right strategy and would have any results. In fact, it would only complicate the situation more and create the most important achievement for the United States to bring Europe closer its strategies,” he said.

So far, the EU leadership has downplayed Tehran’s requests for separate negotiations in Brussels, emphasizing that such efforts are not necessary to resolve the existing issues. However, it has stopped short of rejecting those requests outright, much less condemning the regime’s strategy of delaying the negotiations while attempting to divide the West against itself. Meanwhile, the clerical regime continues advancing its nuclear program during those delays, and regime officials periodically boast of those advancements in an effort to strong-arm the EU into granting new concessions.

On October 9, Mohammad Eslami, the new head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, announced that Tehran had enriched more than 120 kg of uranium to 20 percent fissile purity. “We have more than that figure,” he added vaguely, underscoring the fact that the regime’s nuclear activities have not been subject to proper monitoring for nearly two years if they were ever monitored properly at all. The Iranian regime never came clear about the nature and extent of its nuclear advancements prior to the implementation of the JCPOA.

At least three undeclared sites were found by the International Atomic Energy Agency to contain traces of nuclear material while the agency still had some degree of access to the country. That access was rather comprehensively cut off early this year, leaving the IAEA to rely on estimates in its latest quarterly reports – estimates which Tehran soon mocked for falling well short of its announced stockpiles and enrichment levels.

In September, the IAEA struck a deal with Tehran to at least allow inspectors to perform maintenance on monitoring equipment, even as regime authorities retained all of the relevant data, with the vague promise that they would release it to the UN agency after the JCPOA was fully restored. By that time, the world’s capacity to trust the regime had already been tested, and it has since been tested further by reports that at least one nuclear facility in Karaj has not undergone the promised maintenance, leaving it as a glaring blank spot in the inspections arrangement, which may never be filled in.

This latest act of stonewalling is only one of many examples of the Iranian regime’s escalating provocations, which persist largely because the European Union refuses to hold the regime accountable for anything it does while the JCPOA remains on life support. With each new provocation, it becomes ever clearer that Tehran’s impunity is too high a price to pay for the preservation of an agreement that hasn’t been in effect on Tehran’s side since its beginning.

The EU should come on board with an alternative strategy of increased sanctions, diplomatic isolation, and other forms of pressure, no matter how much some are saying that they “don’t want to talk about Plan Bs.”