There is little sign that the media interest in sanctions on Iran is set to die down any time soon. Each twist, every turn and potential maneuver seems to catch the eye of correspondents and editors. In fact, from a media perspective, sanctions appear to be overshadowing all other developments in Iran. All of which makes it even more curious that few media outlets have devoted column inches or air time to a baffling contradiction over the European attitude to Iranian sanctions.
On the one hand, we know full well that Europe is making concerted efforts to circumvent recent US sanctions targeting Tehran. The European Union and especially the so-called E3 (UK, France and Germany) signatories of the JCPOA nuclear agreement, are desperately working to ensure that business with Iran can remain steady, in order to preserve the JCPOA.
Earlier this month, The Guardian and New York Times were among those to explain how Europe was planning to establish a special purpose vehicle (SPV). This clearing house would facilitate barter exchange to enable companies to avoid using US dollar-dominated financial networks. As such, they would avoid violating US regulations . As Patrick Wintour and Saeed Kamali Deghan explained in The Guardian, the SPV “is seen as critical to reassuring Tehran that the EU genuinely wishes to reward Iran for signing the 2015 deal on its nuclear programme.” Steve Erlanger in the New York Times concurred, commenting that “The Europeans consider the 2015 Iran nuclear deal crucial to their national interests.”
Two weeks ago, Reuters reported that the European effort to protect trade with Iran was crumbling, with no EU country prepared to host the SPV. A piece by John Irish, Francois Murphy and Robin Emmott claimed that the SUV plan is “unravelling” with European countries fearful of American retribution. But the media interest has continued to follow each and every shift. This week, Laurence Norman in the Wall Street Journal reported that France and Germany could join forces to rescue the SPV, “defying U.S. attempts to take the air out of the plan.” In other words, Europe appears to be doggedly committed to protecting Iran from US sanctions.
Yet, at the same time, in the very same breath if media reports are to be believed, Europe is also considering imposing its own sanctions on Iran. Last month, Denmark revealed that it had thwarted an Iranian plot to carry out an assassination in the country. This followed hot on the heels of a similar revelation by France. Iran’s willingness to carry out acts of terror in Europe is clearly no one-time matter.
And so, France, Denmark and other European countries are understandably keen to ensure that Iran pays some sort of price for its murderous plans. In Reuters, Robin Emmott reports this week, that EU foreign ministers have given “cautious support” to possible economic sanctions on Iran, following a Brussels briefing by Danish and French officials.EuroNews carried a similar story.
All of which brings about the obvious question. Does Europe regard Iran as a potential partner worth protecting from sanctions? Or, does Europe believe that Tehran is a violent regime at odds with European goals and values, which must be punished through sanctions? How can Europe be working to both stave off US sanctions, while at the same time potentially introducing its own sanctions on Iran? The two things are manifestly at odds with each other. Europe quite simply cannot hold two polar opposite positions at the same time.
Or can it? After all, the vast majority of the global media seems to be intent on letting Europe have its own cake and eat it. Virtually none have noted the blatant European contradiction. Hats off though to Borzou Daragahi in The Independent, who connected the dots, predicting that “Europe’s determination to salvage” the JCPOA might well spare Tehran “from serious punishment” over the assassination plots on European soil.
It is crucial that more media outlets take their cue from Daragahi and start asking obvious questions. Does Europe believe Iran is a country worthy of the continent’s generosity, or is Tehran a regime Europe plans to shun and oppose? The answer is important, not only because the European public deserves clarity, but because the implications are potentially dramatic. Confused policy on an issue as weighty as Iran could have dangerous consequences.