European support for Iran deal is part of the problem
France and Germany have long encouraged the Iran nuclear deal. When Joe Biden announced that he wanted to return to the deal, Paris and Berlin did the wheel. Indeed, they urged Washington to run with this ball – fast. “Playing to save time is not in anyone’s interest,” said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.
Europeans have been the target of numerous Iranian terrorist plots. They are also concerned about a nuclear threat in Tehran and the regime’s destabilizing activities in the Middle East and beyond. Despite the opening in Tehran, the regime has only done worse. Still, some of Europe’s most powerful leaders want to keep the deal with Iran going. Why?
>>> The growing threat of Iranian missiles
Part of the answer seems to be all about the Benjamins. France significantly strengthened its economic ties with Iran after signing the nuclear deal in 2015. A year later, French automaker PSA announced a joint venture with Iranian automaker Iran Khodro. The French company Alstom and the Industrial Development & Renovation Organization of Iran signed a memorandum “to develop industrial cooperation with the Islamic Republic of Iran […] in the field of mainline and urban transport. Iran has also sealed an agreement with European giant Airbus to buy more than 100 planes. In 2017, the French oil giant Total (now TotalEnergies) sealed a multibillion-dollar gas project with Tehran. In 2017 alone, French exports to the Islamic Republic doubled.
The withdrawal of the United States from the agreement and the sanctions subsequently imposed by Washington on those who did business with the rogue regime have dealt a blow to these arrangements. Total has left Iran. The PSA joint venture has been suspended. Paris’ response, however, was not to give up hope of finally taking it.
To be fair, the consequences of cash may not be the only problem. French President Emmanuel Macron aspires to be an independent pole in world politics. He sees influence with Iran as a way to bolster Paris’ fragile influence in the Middle East, particularly in Lebanon, where Tehran’s long arm operates through the Shiite militant group Hezbollah. We saw this gamble in action last January when Macron repeated Iran’s pushback against Washington’s hard line towards the terrorist organization, saying: “We don’t expect a change in American attitude towards Hezbollah. , but to more American realism on what is possible or not given. the circumstances in Lebanon.
Indeed, the prospect of a return of the United States to the agreement strengthens both the economic and political influence of France. Macron has presented himself as an “honest broker” in the dialogue between the United States and Iran.
Germany has also had economic ties with Iran and has suffered tremendous economic fallout from US sanctions. Auto giant Daimler left the country in 2018. German exports to Iran almost halved in the first six months of 2019.
However, as in the case of France, the stake for Germany is not exclusively economic. Berlin has always viewed the deal with Iran as a triumph of multilateralism, an approach to foreign policy that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has long endorsed. By supporting Iran, Berlin also indirectly supports Russian influence in the Middle East, supporting the notion of Germany as a balancing power between East and West.
>>> The American leverage effect on Iran undermined during the Vienna talks
Another facet of Germany’s and France’s soft line on Iran is that it serves China. China has moved considerably closer to Iran: last March, the two countries signed a 25-year cooperation agreement. The Franco-German friendship towards Iran rather places them in a happy medium between Washington and Beijing.
There is a problem with all the strategic balance and the Franco-German economic commitment. None of this takes into account the deep flaws in the Iranian deal, which was patently unnecessary to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions or Tehran’s destabilizing activities. The consensus response seems to be, “Yes, the deal will likely fail in the end, but that will give us time to prepare a response, and since we have a multilateral approach, there will be a common and coordinated response.” This is absurd logic.
The reality is that the Biden administration sees the deal with Iran as a way to disengage from the Middle East. Unfortunately, this will allow China and Russia to increase their interference in the region. This will leave Europe grappling with all the negative consequences of living in a more volatile, dangerous and worrying neighborhood.
The worst thing that can happen to Europe is that Berlin and Paris get exactly what they ask for.