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18th Jan 2020

Iran deal complicates EU-Israel relations

  • Netanyahu: 'Iran will receive hundreds of billions of dollars with which it can fuel its terror machine' (Photo: eeas.europa.eu)

EU and US leaders have said the Iran deal paves the way for broad co-operation with the Islamic Republic, widening their differences with the Israeli government.

EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini, who chaired the final stages of talks in Vienna, said on Tuesday (14 July), the accord “will ensure that Iran’s nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful” and that it creates “conditions for building trust and opening a new chapter in our relationship”.

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Also speaking on behalf of the 28 EU member states, Council chief Donald Tusk noted: “The agreement could be a turning point in relations between Iran … paving the way to new avenues of co-operation”.

The statements were echoed by individual leaders, commissioners, and MEPs.

German chancellor Angela Merkel called the accord a “substantial gain” for peace in the Middle East and an “important success” for international diplomacy.

France’s Francois Hollande warned: “Now that Iran will have bigger financial capabilities, as there will no longer be sanctions, we must be extremely vigilant.”

But his foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, told Le Monde: “If Iran, an important country, a great civilization, a major actor in the region, clearly makes the choice of co-operation, we will pay tribute to this evolution … Its contribution would be useful to solve numerous crises”.

Barack Obama, the US president, said stopping the Iranian nuclear enrichment programme averts “a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region of the world”.

Like EU leaders, he urged Iran to follow up on the accord by pursuing a more pro-Western foreign policy and by becoming less repressive at home.

“The path of violence and rigid ideology, a foreign policy based on threats to attack your neighbours or eradicate Israel - that’s a dead end”, he said.

The Vienna breakthrough saw the EU immediately extend the suspension of some its sanctions until January next year.

The rest of the sanctions - which include blacklists, curbs on oil and gas exportation, curbs on investment and technology transfer, as well as broader economic measures, and an arms embargo - will be relaxed in the first half of 2016, pending UN Security Council approval and Iranian implementation.

Some of them - on arms and on transfer of nuclear know-how - are to stay in place for five to eight years.

But the sanctions wind-down will see hundreds of bilions of dollars blocked in US and EU banks released to the Iranian treasury.

They are also likely to see a gold rush by Western companies keen to invest in the Iranian market.

Disquiet

The developments have caused disquiet for Iran’s principal adversaries - Saudi Arabia and Israel - which fear not just that the non-proliferation deal isn’t tight enough, but also that Iran’s new wealth will help it seek regional hegemony via proxy forces in Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen.

With the Iran deal in the bag, the US and the EU are also more likely to redouble pressure on Israel to reach lasting terms with Palestine.

For his part, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, who already had lousy ties with Obama, said the Iran deal is “an historic mistake for the world”.

“Iran will receive hundreds of billions of dollars with which it can fuel its terror machine and its expansion and aggression throughout the Middle East and across the globe”.

The critics note that the mechanism to “snap-back” UN sanctions in case of Iranian non-compliance is too cumbersome.

They say international inspections of Iranian military facilities are equally bound up in red tape.

They also say limits on further nuclear research are too weak and that when the arms embargoes are lifted, in five to eight years, it will help Iran to build up the arsenals of Hezbollah and Hamas, its allies in Lebanon and Gaza, which are designated as terrorist entites by the West.

Russia

Meanwhile, the Iran deal has implications for Russian-Western relations.

For his part, Russian leader Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday: “We are confident that the world today breathed a sigh of relief”.

Obama, in his press conference acknowledged that “Russia was a help on this”.

“I’ll be honest with you. I was not sure given the strong differences we are having with Russia right now around Ukraine, whether this would sustain itself”, he added.

EU diplomats note that Russia didn’t try to use the Iran talks to gain EU and US sanctions relief because Middle East non-proliferation is equally in its own interest.

But the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said there should be quid pro quo on US and Nato plans to build a missile defence system in Europe.

“We all probably remember how in April 2009, giving a speech in Prague … Obama said that if Iran’s nuclear program is successfully regulated, then the aim of the European segment of the missile defense will be dropped”, Lavrov noted.

“Today, we drew the attention of our American colleagues to this fact. We will expect a reaction”.

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