Ensuring compliance is the best approach to Iran

  • Donald Trump wants a new nuclear deal with Iran to replace an agreement he has pledged to scrap
  • But working with China and others to honour agreements that took so long to negotiate is the only sensible way forward
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 November, 2018, 10:00pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 November, 2018, 10:54pm

The Trump administration has reinstated all sanctions removed under the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, targeting both that country and states that trade with it. It is only three years since the United States encouraged companies to engage with Iran to underline the benefits of curbing its nuclear ambitions. Now it is using economic power to pressure European allies into joining the about-face.

Donald Trump wants a new deal with Iran to replace the “horrible” agreement he pledged to scrap during the 2016 presidential election campaign, and an end to what Washington calls Tehran’s “malign” activities, from cyberattacks to missile tests to support for terrorists. The latest sanctions are aimed at core parts of the economy such as oil exports, shipping and banks. Trump describes them as the strongest the US has ever imposed. His strategy is to force Tehran back to the negotiating table in a weakened bargaining position or risk economic collapse. This assumes that Iran will not restart its programme to enrich nuclear fuel towards weapons grade and that European companies will not violate the sanctions and risk American retaliation.

Iran vows to defy US sanctions as embargo takes hold

However, there is no reason to suppose sanctions will be any more effective than when they were applied for so long in the past. The Europeans are trying to finalise a barter vehicle that would enable them to buy Iranian oil without technically breaking the sanctions. But one of Trump’s key assumptions is being borne out, with Boeing cancelling a US$20 billion agreement to replace Iran’s ageing fleet, French oil giant Total quitting oilfields development and shipping giant Maersk halting the movement of Iranian goods.

As long as Tehran complies with the accord by limiting its nuclear activities and allowing UN inspections of facilities, other signatories should stand firm. Repeated verification shows the nuclear deal has so far succeeded in its goal of curbing development of atomic weapons. Trump may want it to go further, but his actions do nothing for stability in the Middle East. Working with China and others to honour and ensure compliance with agreements that took so long to negotiate is the only sensible way forward.