Any Iranian hopes of Europe salvaging the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) are quickly fading nearly a year after the United States reneged on the nuclear deal between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on April 3 had some harsh words for Europe in an interview with Khamenei.ir, the official website of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“The Europeans must know that they cannot drop their responsibilities with a few statements or unimplemented plans,” Zarif said. “Our responsibility as a diplomatic agency is to pursue the work of the Europeans, warn them, bring pressure on them that they are responsible for acting upon their commitments, but we must never have hope in them.”
In return for Iran continuing to comply with the nuclear deal, which the International Atomic Energy Agency has verified numerous times, Europe has established a special purpose vehicle called INSTEX, short for Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges, to facilitate trade between Iran and the European Union. Given Zarif’s reference to “unimplemented plans,” it appears INSTEX has had little effect in circumventing US sanctions reimposed as a result of President Donald Trump withdrawing from the JCPOA.
During the short interview, Zarif said that the Europeans always looked at the JCPOA as an “achievement, … but certainly they did not have the ability to stand up against American sanctions.” He continued, “They made efforts, but their efforts were not enough.… [This] demonstrated that the Europeans lacked the willingness to pay a cost in an area in which they themselves said was of strategic importance for them.”
In a tweet on April 3, Zarif further criticized the Europeans, noting that the E3 —France, Germany and the United Kingdom — has not been able to defend the nuclear deal by setting up a “single banking channel for humanitarian aid.” Zarif also accused the E3 of “appeasing” the United States in seeking a United Nations report on the status of Iran’s missile capabilities.
Perhaps in an attempt to save face and stress the importance of working regionally, Zarif emphasized in the Khamenei.ir interview, “[Iran will] still continue to work with Europe, but we never attached our hopes to Europe. This is why in the last few years, and even in the first years of the JCPOA, … most of our travels have been to neighboring countries.”
Among the countries that Iran will continue to focus on according to Zarif are “old partners,” among them Russia, China, Turkey and Iraq. “While I don’t want to use the word ‘friend,’ the focus will be on countries that cooperated with us under difficult conditions,” Zarif said.
The prime minister of one of these “old partners,” Iraq, will pay a visit on April 6. It will be Adel Abdul Mahdi’s first trip to Tehran since taking office last year. He is expected to meet with senior Iranian officials, including Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani. The trip comes just weeks after Rouhani traveled to Iraq for the first time since becoming president in 2013.
According to Iran’s semi-official Mehr News Agency, Abdul Mahdi’s trip shows that the United States and its allied Arab countries have not been successful in pressuring states in the region to cut ties with Iran. To the contrary, it reported, Iraq plans to strengthen its political and economic ties with Tehran.
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