US, Iran and EU interests


“When somebody says it’s not about the money, it’s about the money” is a famous quote attributed to American journalist H. L. Mencken.

In fact, the European reaction toward the Iranian crisis is a practical embodiment of the statement. It is a clue to rationalizing European opposition of the American withdrawal from the Iranian deal. The European determination, pursuit and repeated attempts to convince the United States to maintain the Iranian deal, as it is, have nothing to do with the regional security and stability or to the adherence to international law. In fact it is aimed at safeguarding the European Union’s growing interest in Iran by virtue of the Iranian deal. As soon as the Iranian deal was enacted, European companies rushed to reap the benefits by sealing business deals with Iran worth billions. For example, French Total ($5 billion), Norwegian Saga Energy ($3 billion), Airbus ($10 billions), German Siemens ($6 billion), and French Renault ($1 billion), etc., are some in the long list of business deals between European Union companies and Iran. In 2017, European exports of services and commodities to Iran amounted to 10.8 billion euros, i.e. $12.9 billion. Hence, “economic interests” is the only rationale behind the current European reaction to the crisis.

The European Union proposed taking some practical measures to mitigate the impact of the American sanctions on European companies in order to preserve its interests in Iran. For instance, European governments may avoid utilizing the American financial system through direct remittances to Iran in exchange for oil exports. In addition, they may allow the European Investment Bank (EIB) to operate in Iran and grant “credit lines” in euros from European Union countries at a higher rate. Nevertheless, these measures have failed to reassure the European companies operating on an international scale that fear the impact of the American decision on their business. Hence, most of the European companies, including Total, ENI, Siemens, Airbus, Alliance, Saga Energy, Danieli and Maersk announced their willingness to leave Iran permanently only 10 days after the US withdrawal from the Iranian deal, i.e. way ahead of the Nov. 4 deadline given to companies and entities to terminate their businesses with or in Iran before the implementation of the sanctions. The reason behind the withdrawal of European companies from Iran indicates their concerns that the re-imposition of US sanctions on Iran may subject them to fines and possibly deprive them of the US market, if they continue to engage in business with Iran. There is no need to point out that their trade volume with the United States exceeds dozens of times their trade volume with Iran. The United States is home to the second largest purchasing power making it the world’s largest consumer market worth nearly $19 trillion. Furthermore, the yearly US trade volume with the European Union is worth $700 billion. Subsequently, those companies cannot risk their interests in the United States for minor deals in Iran, which form only 0.6 percent of the total global trade of the EU, according to the European Commission. Even those companies having no business or interests in the United States may be vulnerable to bankruptcy for depriving Iran of dealing in the US dollar.

In conclusion, I do not think the EU has much to offer in its attempts to change the reality of sanctions imposed by President Trump on Iran. Nor do I think the Iranian deal will continue if it is not amended as per the American demands, which seek to voice credible regional and international concerns over the Iranian deal. By persisting in this policy, Iran will end up in the abyss and the foreign investments that have been a winning card in many of its maneuvers to continue its aggressive policy will lose. Thus, the upcoming Iranian model is similar in many respects to that of North Korea where life is worse than death.

— Dr. Ibrahim Al-Othaimin is a Middle East affairs specialist and security analyst based in Riyadh. He can be contacted at Follow him on Twitter @Alothaimin