Europe set to get tough over Iran’s ballistic missiles

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EU ambassadors discussed on Wednesday possible new sanctions on Iran. A decision regarding such action may be taken at a foreign ministers’ meeting next month.

“The idea is to have a final decision on Iran sanctions by — or at — the April Foreign Affairs Council,” one diplomat told Reuters in Brussels, referring to the EU’s next foreign ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg on April 16.

According to a confidential document seen by Reuters, Britain, France and Germany have proposed fresh EU sanctions on Iran because of its ballistic missiles.

US President Donald Trump has taken a tough line on Iran and has given the European signatories a May 12 deadline to “fix the terrible flaws” of the 2015 nuclear deal that was agreed to by his predecessor Barack Obama. If there is no “fix,” he will refuse to extend US sanctions relief on Iran.

The EU envoys discussed possible sanctions at last week’s meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels, where they agreed that Iran needed to be held to account for its malign role in the region.

At the meeting last week, France also urged the EU to consider new sanctions on Iran, publicly citing the “proliferation of ballistic missiles and (Tehran’s) very questionable role in the Middle East.”

Another diplomat told Reuters that the discussions in EU capitals were moving in favor of new sanctions, partly because ballistic missiles fired by Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi militia killed a man in Riyadh on Sunday.

Leading Middle East experts welcomed the move and said the nuclear deal that the US and other countries made with Iran in 2015 was deeply flawed.

“The so-called nuclear deal signed at the behest of the Obama administration offered Iran a wide berth to continue procuring parts for its missile program,” said Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program.

He said a “more stringent” European sanctions regime is crucial to preventing Iran from using front companies in European countries, such as Germany, to advance its ballistic weapons program.

“The Iranian government has been emboldened by the easing of sanctions that the nuclear deal has offered Tehran. It’s one of the reasons we’re seeing more Iranian missile proliferation throughout the region; the missiles are targeting cities throughout the Middle East and placing millions of civilians at risk,” said Shahbandar.

Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Riyadh-based Saudi political analyst and international-relations scholar, said the “screws need to tighten on Iran.”

He said it was a “big mistake” on the part of the Obama administration and European countries to have overlooked Iran’s dangerous and violent interference in the region and its relentless pursuit of ballistic missile programs before it signed the nuclear deal.

“The two should have been linked,” he told Arab News. “By not doing so, the world community allowed Iran to wreak havoc, as we saw two days ago when their militia launched missiles into Riyadh.”

He described the situation as extremely dangerous. “Iran is a big threat to the safety, security and stability of the Middle East and the world at large. Tehran needs to be stopped and Saudi Arabia’s allies in Europe and elsewhere must understand the gravity of the situation.”

Against this background, the European action plan to slap more sanctions on Iran seems to be a logical step, he added.
According to Harvard scholar and Iranian affairs expert Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, EU sanctions against the Iranian regime are long overdue.

“This development is critical as it sends a robust message to the Iranian regime that the EU will not tolerate Iran’s aggressive foreign policy, violations of international law and UN resolutions, military adventurism in the region and supply of weapons to terrorist groups. This is also significant because it will be the first punitive act carried out by the EU against Tehran and the IRGC since the JCPOA and also since four rounds of UN sanctions were lifted.”

However, Rafizadeh said EU sanctions alone were not likely to change the Iranian regime’s behavior.

“Tehran will more likely escalate its belligerence and disregard for international norms. More forceful measures by the EU, such as suspension of trade with Tehran, re-imposing the sanctions which were lifted under the nuclear deal, and re-negotiating the terms of the nuclear agreement, are required to alter Tehran’s destabilizing behavior. More fundamentally, other EU members such as Italy, Greece, Ireland, and Sweden also need to join Britain and France and take similar measures,” he said.

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