Time for a Plan B for Iran

The recent tumultuous and tragic events in the Middle East make it easy to forget our number one foreign policy objective in Iran.  To stop it building a nuclear weapon.  Those advocating the complete withdrawal of Western interests in the region would do well to reflect the possible consequences of an Ayatollah with his finger on the nuclear button. 

For the past 4 years, the success of that policy has rested on the JCPOA agreement. In return for Iran ceasing nuclear weapons development, the UK, US, EU, France, Germany, Russia & China have reduced sanctions and sought to increase trade. 

But in 2018, the US announced its withdrawal from the agreement, much to the consternation of the other participants.  Since when the Iran nuclear agreement has been unwinding, so much so that in December I warned the European Parliament that we needed to brace ourselves for its failure and urgently look for a Plan B. 

That prediction has now come to pass. After the killing of General Soleimani, Iran has turned its uranium centrifuges back on and is no longer obeying the limitations of the deal.  In response, Britain, France and Germany have triggered the agreement’s dispute mechanism. 

The European Union is continuing to cling on to the JCPOA.  Yesterday in the EU Parliament, its High Representative, Mr Borrel, said his priority was to ‘preserve the JCPOA’ as the best solution to restore ‘peace and security’ to the region.  But the EU is living in fantasy land and is far from blameless for this mess.  INSTEX, its plan to protect European companies wanting to trade with Iran from US sanctions has come up short.  The result has been threats from Iran to target reprisals at EU member states.  

The plain fact is that nothing will restore stability to the region without the active involvement of the US.  

It’s a popular sport for many virtue-signalling MEPs to rubbish President Trump.  But if we want to keep nuclear weapons out of Iran, resume trade, free political prisoners like Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and support the human rights of Iranians, the EU  first needs to restore friendships and influence in Washington, not Tehran.  

Britain’s special relationships with the US and European nations can help.  Our own experience tells us that brute force is not a sustainable solution. We have friends and influence in Asia, particularly among border states to Iran which are looking on anxiously.  

What questions would Plan B need to answer?  How to incentivise the Iranians to turn the centrifuges off, stop supporting proxy attacks against the US and reconsider its policies on human rights.? In return, how to restore trade and the progressive reintegration into the global community?  The threat of America’s big stick, even if it is dressed up as NATO, is an essential part of the equation. 

The JCPOA nuclear agreement is dead.  Iran and the West need a Plan B.  The EU needs to get back onside with President Trump. Only the Americans have the resources, relationships and firepower in the region to underpin an alternative to the JCPOA deal. 

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