INSTEX, the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges, touted as a huge achievement of Britain, France and Germany has not given Iran access to financial foreign-trade operations. The mechanism was designed to ensure the discharge of the three nations’ obligations under the international nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, related to lifting of restrictions on trade with and investment in Iran in exchange for significant curbing of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.
After Washington withdrew from the JCPOA last May, the EU decided to stay, in order to save face and demonstrate its sovereignty and independence from the US, and pledged its support to Tehran in the form of a specific mechanism.
Europeans palmed Iran off with promises for almost nine months. Finally, at the end of January, they triumphantly announced that the new institution was established. Then, however, the most interesting things began.
The co-founders of INSTEX – Paris, London and Berlin – announced that the new system would at first focus only on “the crucial sectors, such as pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and agricultural produce.” Such step, however, did not require that much courage, since the White House had not introduced sanctions against these categories of goods, classifying them as humanitarian. Therefore, the European trio so far managed to have their cake and eat it: they avoided a confrontation with America, and demonstrated their “full loyalty” to Iran. But they did not do anything substantial to counteract Washington’s intentions to reduce Iranian oil exports to zero and fully destroy the country’s economy. “That’s hypocrisy in action,” writes Iranian political scientist Salman Parviz in his comment on the website of the Mehr news agency.
The Iranian leaders rightly believe that by delaying the full launch of IRENEX, Europe is trying to put pressure on Iran and force it to the negotiation table to discuss the ballistic missile program. Readers may remember that one of the reasons for Washington’s withdrawal from the deal was Iran’s refusal to include the issue of missiles in the agenda of talks on its nuclear program and in the wording of the agreement.
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif urged the European Union to honor its commitments under the JCPOA, threatening that Iran would leave the nuclear deal should Europe create any additional conditions for INSTEX. In the course of one section of the conference, Zarif recalled that Resolution 2231 of the UN Security Council prohibited only development of missiles for delivery of nuclear weapons. Tehran’s missile program was purely defensive, he emphasized. In a situation when the major Western countries are supplying state-of-the-art weapons to nations that are not friendly towards Iran, the Islamic Republic needs to be able to defend itself, he said.
Mistrust of Europe is growing in Iran. Addressing air force commanders ahead of the 40th anniversary of the Islamic revolution, the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for caution in building relations with Europe. Europeans are proving to be as unreliable in talks as Americans, he said. “These days, there is a discussion of Europeans and their proposal,” he said. “I would advise against trusting them, the same as we cannot trust the US.” “Hostility of the US is obvious, while Europe is two-faced,” he said speaking on the same topic to the residents of Tabriz on Monday.
At the same time, Iran demonstrates willingness to continue cooperation with Europe. On Monday, the Iranian parliament, Majlis, even made a symbolic gesture, allowing sale of some oil on the IRENEX. It is symbolic, because the mechanism is not suitable for such deals yet and also because the allowed sale volume is under 67,000 bbl per day, while Iran supplies 1 million bbl daily to the international market even under the current tough US sanctions that restrict oil exports and transportation, insurance of such operations and bank transactions in US dollars.
Unless the European trio takes more decisive steps and puts the mechanism in full swing, INSTEX may turn out to be a car without a motor and a driver: attractive, but totally useless.
Whether it is due to Europe’s helplessness or cunning, the threat of Iran’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal is growing in any case.
Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, repeatedly said in recent months that if the JCPOA is annulled, Tehran would be able to promptly resume uranium enrichment to 20%, i.e. the level preceding the agreement.
Iran’s withdrawal from the JCPOA would mean not only a total collapse of the nuclear deal, which was the product of grueling two-year talks and a difficult compromise of the parties. This throwback would threaten security in the Middle East and the nuclear non-proliferation regime.
Washington would be applauding. That’s exactly what it needs. After all, annulment of the JCPOA would untie the hands of the Washington alliance of Iranophobic hawks led by State Secretary Michael Pompeo, who is closely linked to the US defense industry and oil business, and skilled in organizing anti-Iranian projects since his years as head of the CIA. It is not difficult to forecast that Washington will once again declare Iran a pariah state, and start whipping up anti-Iranian hysteria using the time-tested clichés of “terrorism sponsorship,” “threat to neighboring countries and Israel” and “violation of human rights.” This background will serve as a good smoke screen for using “orange” technologies to replace the unwanted government in the Islamic Republic.
In Iran, the success of President Hassan Rouhani and his team at the talks on the Iranian nuclear program and signing of the JCPOA in 2015 is firmly connected with the stronger positions of reformers and moderate members of the country’s political establishment. As the West leaves ever fewer hopes for building mutually beneficial relations and, as a result, confidence in it is waning, the pendulum of Iranians’ political preferences is slowly, but inevitably moving towards the conservative wing. According to a poll conducted by the University of Maryland, only 51% Iranians still think that the country should stay in the nuclear deal, while four years ago more than two thirds of the population supported the agreement.