The very public presentation by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of what he called Iran’s secret nuclear weapons programme, has fuelled further debate over the voracity of the 2015 nuclear deal between six international powers and Iran, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Of course, it comes at a critical juncture for the agreement, just days before the May 12 deadline for US President Donald Trump, by which he must decide whether to restore US sanctions removed by the JCPOA, and effectively end the United States’ support.
It remains to be seen what kind of an impact the Netanyahu files will have on Washington. However, the response from Europe has been striking. One after the other, leaders of the E3 signatories to the deal (UK, France and Germany) concluded that the revelations contained no smoking gun and if anything underscore the importance of the JCPOA. This has been faithfully reflected in a European media, which has time and again ascribed little importance to Netanyahu’s presentation – From the Guardian, to the BBC to Deutsche Welle, all have dismissed it as going over old ground.
France’s Foreign Ministry insisted that “The pertinence of the deal is reinforced by the details presented by Israel.” The German government commented that the nuclear agreement had been reached precisely because “the international community had doubts that Iran was pursuing an exclusively peaceful nuclear programme.” Meanwhile, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini was at pains to emphasise that the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) has produced 10 reports saying Iran had met its commitments to the deal. Most instructively perhaps, UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson responded by saying “The Iran nuclear deal is not based on trust about Iran’s intentions, rather it is based on tough verification.”
Indeed, Europe’s leaders are perhaps correct in their assessment that the cache of documents presented by Netanyahu contains no hard evidence that Iran breached the JCPOA. Indeed, European leaders and media have often been at pains to underline apparent Iranian compliance. At the same time though, as Johnson alluded to, they make a compelling case that Iran was far from truthful about the extent of its nuclear activities when the deal was signed in 2015.
In short, Iran has been exposed for having made the deal in bad faith. The fact that Tehran lied in 2015 about its nuclear plans and ambitions, has been laid bare to the world. And the uncomfortable truth for many in Europe, is that the chances are if they were lying then, they are continuing to lie now. We already know, by Iran’s own admission, that it needs just 48 hours to renew high-level enrichment – How is this possible without some degree of development continuing today? More to the point, given the untruths told by Iran in 2015, when the country’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Zarif tells the world, as he recently did on CBS News, that “Iran commits itself never to develop a nuclear weapon,” he too is lying.
It is no wonder the Wall Street Journal reports that Iran is desperately trying to keep Europe onside as questions mount over the JCPOA. Despite the bravado of Iran’s leaders over the Netanyahu files, Tehran understands that the documents expose their duplicity, and as such the E3 should draw the logical conclusion – The minute the JCPOA expires, Iran has every intention of moving towards nuclear armament.
The time has come for Europe to think very carefully. Iran is a regime which represses its own citizens, discriminating on the basis of ethnicity and gender. Iran is no democracy, it is ruled by theocrats who have no intention of ever ceding power to the people. Iran is developing ballistic missiles at a frightening pace and Europe is already within range. Do European leaders want to take the chance that Tehran can add a nuclear warhead to these missiles in a decade’s time? Is Europe’s media really unconcerned that millions of Europeans could easily find themselves in the nuclear crosshairs?
Now may not be the time to abandon the JCPOA. But it is time for a thorough reassessment. It is time for the media to raise serious questions about the character and intentions of Iran’s regime. Europe must be in no doubt about the nature of the beast it got into bed with in 2015. With the JCPOA at a crossroads, it is time for Berlin, Paris and London to strengthen the deal, to alter its terms, to add assurances and to give the agreement some real teeth. More to the point, Europe’s media must hold its leaders and decision-makers to account, to ensure that that this process takes place, that urgent and responsible action is taken.