New EU sanctions against Iran elevate tensions in the Middle East

Friday, 2019-01-11 12:38:41
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Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif delivers his statement, during the Geneva Conference on Afghanistan, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, November 28, 2018. (Photo: Reuters)
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NDO – Relations between Iran and the European Union (EU) are getting tense after the EU has imposed some sanctions on Tehran’s officials. In the context of US pressure through sanctions against Iran, such a new development threatens to hinder the EU from fulfilling its promise to ensure Tehran’s interests, while triggering concerns about increased tension in the region.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry declared that Tehran would respond adequately to the EU’s decision to sanction an Iranian intelligence unit and two of its staff. These individuals have been put on the list of terrorists and have had their assets frozen by the EU. This is a tough reaction from the EU side after several European countries announced their detection and destruction of some attacks allegedly plotted by Iran. At the end of October 2018, the Danish intelligence agency revealed that Danish police discovered a plot suspected to be designed by Iran’s intelligence forces aiming to assassinate the leader of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz (ASMLA) in Denmark. Danish police arrested a suspect in the case, who is a Norwegian citizen of Iranian descent. ASMLA was accused by Tehran to stand behind the terrorist attack aimed at a military parade in the Iranian city of Ahvaz on September 22, 2018, that killed at least 25 people.

The Iranian government has repeatedly rejected the EU’s accusation, claiming it as part of a hostile plan seeking to negatively affect relations between the Islamic country and the EU. Iran has summoned the Danish ambassador in Tehran to express its “strong opposition” to Denmark’s allegations in the case which is considered “hasty, indecent and politically motivated”. The Iranian Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the EU sanctions, stating that they would not help the EU to shirk its responsibility in harboring terrorists.

Amid quarrels between the two sides, the new sanctions against Iran are the first sign of change in the EU after a period of internal division over how to punish Iran. Tehran could lose the necessary support of the EU, while facing pressure from US sanctions. Although the EU has committed to maintaining the 2015 nuclear agreement signed between Iran and the great powers after the US withdrawal, the EU’s efforts have yet to be enough to limit the negative effects of the US imposition of sanctions against Iran. Tehran criticised the EU countries for their unwillingness to take action to save business opportunities in Iran because of stagnation and passivity in front of the US, and warned that the EU nations would have regret about this.

In fact, Iran is heavily dependent on the EU support after the US withdrew from the nuclear deal, as well as on the EU’s commitments to secure Iran’s interests under the agreement. The EU once stated that it would create a legal entity to facilitate legal financial transactions with Iran without fear of US sanctions. However, facing the EU’s delay for many reasons, including interest calculations, Iran has proactively taken its own steps. Tehran not only focuses on relations with the EU but also extends its relations with other countries, including Russia, China, Turkey and some South Asian countries. Iran claimed that they would not succumb to the threats of the US and its Western allies, and that Tehran is willing to use its “trump card” which is to blockade the Strait of Hormuz, an important international shipping and oil transportation route. Also, the Islamic nation has continuously published its scientific achievements on its missile development programme as a tough answer to Western sanctions.

The US sanctions and hostile moves against Iran have moved the relationship between the two sides into a constant state of full tensions. And the EU’s imposition of new sanctions on Tehran has further complicated the situation in the Middle East, especially when the region with significant geo-political position is desperately in need of tension reduction through negotiations.