How to Stiffen Europe’s Resolve After the Iran Nuclear Deal

President Biden admitted last week that his protracted effort to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran was finally coming to an end: “We await their response. I’m not sure when that will come. But we won’t wait forever.” We’ve been hearing that since December 2021, even from the Europeans, the most devoted supporters of the deal.

The cascade of concessions from the White House during the negotiations, Iran’s extra time to advance its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, and the easing of US sanctions enforcement have given Tehran’s ayatollahs considerable encouragement. Even if the current ambiguity is far from their ideal, they can accept living with it indefinitely.

However, that should not satisfy Washington. Instead, the US should develop diplomatic strategies to reconcile the other Western parties to the original deal (France, Germany and Britain) with Israel and the Arab states most threatened by Iran. For two decades, America’s Middle East allies and European allies have held opposing views on how best to prevent Iran from obtaining deliverable nuclear weapons. This divide has sometimes been public, sometimes not, and preferred policies have shifted, but Europeans have generally emphasized negotiation, while regional allies have taken a tougher approach. With the two most concerned factions of American allies at odds, it is not surprising that Iran has been able to pull through the confusion and get ever closer to producing deliverable nuclear weapons. Resolving this issue is a top priority.

With the negotiations having failed repeatedly, Biden’s main diplomatic goal must be to persuade Europeans to adopt a tougher economic and political stance, and to accept that covert military action by Israel and others against Iran’s nuclear program has already begun. Stricter measures may be required. If Europeans share America’s view that a nuclear-capable Iran is unacceptable, they should be prepared to act on that belief.

A first diplomatic step would be for those most at risk from Iran, both through its nuclear ambitions and as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, to take the lead alongside our European friends. One could imagine a delegation of, say, Israeli, Bahraini and Emirati foreign ministers visiting their European counterparts to urge a united front against Iran. What an impressive display that would make in Paris, Berlin and London. The tour could include Tallinn, Estonia and Warsaw to symbolize for other Europeans the dangers of living close to hostile neighbors.

This joint Arab-Israeli air squadron would make compelling arguments that go beyond the global threat posed by Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. The White House has revealed that Iran is on the verge of selling several hundred “assault-capable” drones to Russia, which will almost certainly be used in Ukraine. Sending drones to Russia is consistent with Iran’s policy of supplying Yemen’s Houthi rebels with drones and missiles, which are widely used to attack civilian airports and oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.

Iran’s oil sales to China, which dodged US sanctions that were relaxed under Mr Biden, have also risen dramatically. In contrast, the foreign ministers of Bahrain and the Emirates, on behalf of the hydrocarbon-producing Gulf Arabs, can be part of Europe’s solution to its catastrophic mistake of becoming overly dependent on Russian exports.

The traveling foreign ministers were also able to stress that the original deal never brought the greater visibility of Iran’s nuclear program that the world was promised. Tehran has ignored both its obligations under the 2015 accord and those of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Europe’s leaders, strong supporters of the United Nations, should be deeply troubled by International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi’s criticism of Iran’s obstruction. The IAEA Board of Governors in June overwhelmingly agreed to censure Iran for non-compliance, with only Russia and China voting against the measure.

The diplomatic mission can also stress that Tehran’s intransigence on non-nuclear issues ultimately torpedoed the revival of the 2015 accord. The demand that Washington remove Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from the list of foreign terrorist organizations has nothing to do with nuclear issues. The IRGC has threatened terrorism in Europe, such as the foiled 2018 attack on an opposition rally in Paris. Incredibly, Belgian lawmakers are considering releasing the Iranian “diplomat” convicted of this bombing; Perhaps Brussels should be the first port of call for the Middle East squadron. Furthermore, albeit under the flawed concept of “universal jurisdiction”, Sweden recently convicted Iranian agents of prison killings of members of the same opposition group shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution – acts of terrorism against their fellow citizens.

As for the possible use of force against Iran’s nuclear efforts, who better to get the message across than Israel’s Prime Minister Yair Lapid? As he said during Mr Biden’s visit, “The only way to stop them is to put a credible military threat on the table.” That’s what Europeans should hear from Mr Lapid head-on and one-on-one in their capitals.

America’s anti-proliferation diplomacy towards Iran needs to be much broader, accompanied by far tougher economic sanctions and support for legitimate opposition groups to overthrow the ayatollahs. A joint Israeli-Arab foreign ministers’ travel team would be a good start.

Mr. Bolton is the author of The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir. He was National Security Advisor to the President from 2018 to 2019 and Ambassador to the United Nations from 2005 to 2006.

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