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Iran Watch // March 2018

NUCLEAR DEAL BACK ON THE AGENDA

On March 15th, U.S. and EU officials will meet in Berlin to discuss the future of the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA). This continues a set of February meetings in Paris and Munich, as well as outreach by European officials to Iranian counterparts. The meetings reflect an attempt to patch over a widening transatlantic divide on the issue of Iran, with growing concern by some in the U.S. government and Congress that the agreement only delays rather than prevents Iranian access to nuclear technology.  President Trump has repeatedly called the document a “bad deal” and threatened a U.S. pullout unless additional legislation is passed to strengthen enforcement measures.  European leaders, however, have reinforced their support for the deal, stressing their opinion that it is the only viable instrument to contain Iranian nuclear ambitions. An additional concern by JCPOA opponents is Iran’s ongoing regional meddling, which some view as a failure of the deal to curb Iran’s threat to regional security. The upcoming talks come after the most serious confrontation between Israel and Iranian-backed forces in Syria in early February.

EU-U.S. to Address JCPOA Concerns

Trump administration officials criticize the JCPOA for failing to prevent Iran from threatening regional security. Although European leaders remain supportive of the agreement and, unlike U.S. officials, remain convinced that the Iran deal is fulfilling its main objective of containing Iran's nuclear ambitions, recent weeks have shown that governments are beginning to share U.S. concerns, particularly over Iran’s ballistic missile program. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian raised this issue during a brief visit to Tehran on March 5th, but was sharply rebuked by his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif. Britain, France, and Germany (E-3) have been meeting with U.S. officials, stressing that they will address Iran’s ballistic missile program as part of a larger strategy in Berlin. In exchange, they expect Trump to keep the deal alive by renewing U.S. sanctions relief on May 12th. European officials will also meet with Iran in Italy this month in an effort to prove that they are meeting the Trump administration’s concerns. 

Sunset clauses and the associated US demand for permanent regulatory mechanisms, the latter of which were never part of the deal, are expected to be focal points of the discussions.  There are the additional concerns over Iran’s continued ballistic missile program, the lack of access for International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to Iranian military installations, as well as the Revolutionary Guard’s (IRGC) role in, and Iran's support of, militias and terrorist organizations across the Middle East.

Were the EU and U.S. not to come to an agreement on how to fix the deal and the U.S. re-imposed sanctions against Iran, the collateral economic costs for the EU would be significant; financial institutions risk losing access to U.S. markets from the resulting secondary sanctions. 

Articles:

Europeans engage with Iran on regional issues as Trump deadline nears, Reuters, 01.03.2018
Sunsets 'tricky bit' in transatlantic talks on Trump Iran demands, Al-Monitor, 28.02.2018
Iran: EU committed to full implementation of nuclear deal, European External Action Service, 11.01.18
Saving Transatlantic Cooperation and the Iran Nuclear Deal, SWP, 09.02.2018
Europe’s Sanctions-Blocking Threats Are Empty, Foreign Policy, 20.02.18
Rewrite Iran Deal? Europeans Offer a Different Solution: A New Chapter, New York Times, 26.02.2018

Iran's Regional Goals

Iran is firmly rooted as Assad's partner in Syria, and its sphere of influence now includes Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon through satellite organizations such as the Badr organization, Houthi rebels, and Hezbollah. Iranian Army Deputy Chief of Staff Massoud Jazayeri confirmed Iran’s regional hegemonic ambitions in early March when he announced that the Middle East’s future would belong to Iran and its allies. While Israel has been sending clear messages that it will not tolerate a permanent Iranian presence in Syria, the Iranian regime continues to use Syria as a base to threaten Israel’s security. 

Many European governments are echoing Israel’s and their Arab allies’ concern over an Iranian-led axis in the region. Britain, France, and Germany, along with Italy and the European Union initiated sideline discussions with Iran at the Munich Security conference to address regional issues amid these tensions.

Articles:

What Iran is really up to in Syria, The Atlantic, 14.02.18
Iran, Deeply Embedded in Syria, Expands ‘Axis of Resistance’, New York Times, 19.02.18
Jazayeri: Iran and its anti-US “resistance” allies will shape Middle East’s future, Middle East Institute, 26.02.2018
Iran at Israel's Doorsteps

On February 10th, 2018, the Israeli air force intercepted an Iranian drone flying in its airspace. In response to the incursion, the air force targeted 12 targets in Syria, including three aerial defense batteries and four Iranian targets that are part of Iran's military establishment in Syria. During the operation, an Israeli aircraft was downed—the first in over 30 years. In response, the Israeli air force struck several anti-aircraft positions in Syria, sending a clear message that Israel would not leave Iran's and Syria's aggression unanswered. Netanyahu bluntly told world leaders at the Munich Security Conference that “I’ve made clear in word and deed that Israel has red lines it will enforce.”

The German government has called on Iran to deescalate its confrontation with Israel, expressing concern over Iran’s involvement in Syria, in particular the militias it controls, and reiterated Israel’s right to defend itself. Tehran is nonetheless determined to set up a permanent military presence in Syria, with satellite imagery capturing yet another permanent military base outside Syria’s capital in late February. International concern is growing over the risk of conflict between Israel and Iran if Tehran continues to challenge Israel’s red lines.

Articles:
Israel’s Coming War with Hezbollah, Foreign Affairs, 21.02.18
Iran and Israel face off in Syria, as if it wasn’t complicated enough, Brookings, 13.02.18
Iran is Playing with Fire in Syria, Foreign Policy, 13.02.18
New satellite photos show Iran establishing another base in Syria, Fox News, 28.02.2018
About the author: 
Eric Adamson
03/15/2018 Report

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