EU Consideration of Iran Sanctions Could Set Course for Unified Western Policy

'Iranian malign activity at home and abroad must be challenged'

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani / Getty Images
November 21, 2018

The possibility of new European Union sanctions against Iran to punish the hardline regime for terror plots in France and Denmark could set the course for a more unified Western policy toward Tehran's non-nuclear threats, according to a regional expert.

European diplomats agreed Monday to consider targeted sanctions on Iranians after representatives from France and Denmark traveled to Brussels this week to brief foreign ministers on the foiled attacks, according to Reuters.

The EU has been hesitant to consider sanctions over Iran's destabilizing actions in Europe and the Middle East amid uncertainty over the nuclear accord's future after President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in May.

"Although it is far too soon to say, and at present, unlikely, new EU penalties against Iran have the potential to set the predicate for a more united Western policy on Iran's non-nuclear threats," Behnam Ben Taleblu, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Washington Free Beacon.

"Whatever the fate of the JCPOA, Iranian malign activity at home and abroad must be challenged," he added, using the initialism for the nuclear deal's official name.

The United States and Europe do not currently coordinate on non-nuclear policy to deter Iran's malign behavior. Iran has threatened to leave the deal if the EU fails to preserve its economic benefits.

France last month froze the assets of two Iranians and the country's intelligence service over alleged ties to a failed bomb attack on a rally organized by an Iranian opposition group near Paris. Diplomats told Reuters they are considering an expansion of those sanctions across the EU bloc.

Denmark backed EU-wide sanctions in October after accusing an Iranian intelligence service of plotting an assassination on its soil. Iran has denied involvement in both the Dutch and French plots.

The accord sought to limit Iran's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, but administration officials contended it was too narrow and had little-to-no effect on Tehran's malign behavior.

The Trump administration has pressed European allies to join to the United States in adopting a hardline stance against Tehran, but to no avail. Instead, the EU is attempting to establish a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to circumvent U.S. sanctions with Iran and allow European companies to continue to do business with the country.

U.S. special envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, has said the administration wants more nations to join "in confronting the array of Iran's malign activity."

Taleblu said the United States "must not miss this opportunity, or any others, to remind EU members that their own leaders have castigated Iran for its terrorism, human rights, and missile activities."

"The JCPOA cannot, and indeed must not, become the 800 lb gorilla in the room that impedes cooperation on a potentially more united Iran policy," he said. "Responding to Iranian terrorist plots and threats in Europe should be the first step towards repairing relations on the Iran file."