By Norman Roule
The priority for Europe and the US should be to develop an incentive architecture that ensures responsible behaviour.Senior advisor, United Against Nuclear Iran
The Islamic Republic of Iran’s relationship with the world has been complicated and fractious since its inception, and is set to become even more complex in the coming months. President Macron and Chancellor Merkel will do their best to save the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), while simultaneously seeking ways to pressure Iran to cease behaviour that has engendered significant international condemnation and sanctions.
To do so we need more than threats. The Iranian regime needs to understand that if it behaves responsibly, access to international markets, technology, and financial systems will follow, and with it, economic success and domestic political stability. The priority for Europe and the US should therefore be to develop an incentive architecture that ensures responsible behaviour.
Indeed, the absence of a coordinated US-EU approach focusing on Iran’s regional expansion has contributed to the regime’s bold and bloody adventurism in countries ranging from Bahrain and Iraq, to Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. Similarly, the absence of consistent transatlantic focus on Iran’s domestic behaviour has contributed to Iran’s dismal human rights record, including its disturbing detention of a growing number of foreign nationals.
To date the JCPOA has at least temporarily halted what was seen as the nuclear program’s unstoppable expansion. At the same time, the sanctions relief afforded to Iran under the deal have demonstrated to the Iranian people that it is the regime leadership – and not the West – that is responsible for their terrible economic problems.
Nevertheless, it is not unreasonable to acknowledge that weaknesses in the deal have come to light in areas that were considered acceptable several years ago and that need strengthening. To do so, the US and Europe must work together to demonstrate that Iran’s failure to act as a responsible member of the international community will bring harsh economic consequences.
The most challenging area that needs fixing are the “sunset clauses,” which will allow Iran to gradually expand the size and sophistication of its enrichment program after year 15 of the agreement. These sunset clauses will also remove restrictions on Iran’s conventional military in the very near term. The JCPOA mandates that the United Nations conventional arms embargo will expire in 2020, allowing Iran to purchase a vast assortment of armaments for its aggressive military and violent proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Missile restrictions will also expire in 2023. Given these sunsets, it is understandable why many in the US and Europe argue that the JCPOA in its current state will make only minimal contributions to regional stability.
US–European cooperation should not only focus on the JCPOA. Levying punishing sanctions against the political wing of Hezbollah – something some in Europe have been reluctant to support – is increasingly important. Similarly, sanctioning Iran’s deadly Quds Force as a terrorist organization will also be key to stopping Iran’s ongoing meddling and bloody interventions in the region.
None of this will be easy. But instead of pointing fingers, the US should focus on the future together with its European partners. America needs to seek Europe’s counsel and protect its strategic equities, but Europe must also take meaningful and urgent measures against Tehran. As complicated as Iran’s world will become, it needs to be clearly understood that we stand together and are determined to hold Iran accountable for its actions.
_Norman Roule is a senior advisor at United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) and former National Intelligence Manager for Iran for the US government.
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