Last week, former secretary of state and CIA head Mike Pompeo gave an interview with Saudi Arabia’s Arab News in which he attacked the Biden administration’s response - or lack thereof - to the Iranian threat. Pompeo urged the E3 - France, Germany, and the UK - to unite and take action against Iran to avoid potential nuclear confrontation and further instability in the Middle East.
It’s clear Biden has miscalculated the Iranian threat. After all, he’s mentioned reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a controversial plan enacted under the Obama administration and colloquially known as the Iran nuclear deal. However, Biden has not yet taken any measures to end the sanctions imposed by Donald Trump - which is a good thing. As Pompeo claims, there is proof the hard-hitting sanctions carry weight.
Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal and subsequent sanctions cost Iran’s economy $1 trillion. When the Biden administration entered the White House, it made it clear that the US will not reimburse Iran for money lost during Trump’s sanctions and the US will not re-enter the nuclear deal until Iran stops enriching uranium.
On the one hand Biden has been clear, a key pillar of the JCPOA. Sanctions have become a powerful tool, a stick and carrot approach to avoiding nuclear warfare, but they are not enough to solve Iran’s machinations for destruction. Importantly, they will have little effect if enforced alone.
“Sanctions have become a powerful tool, a stick and carrot approach to avoiding nuclear warfare, but they are not enough to solve Iran’s machinations for destruction”
On the other hand, Europe has proved it can take a hard line approach with Iran - just last month a Belgian court found an Iranian diplomat guilty of a failed 2018 bomb plot targeting Iranian dissidents and world leaders in Paris. This landmark trial shows the EU is willing to supersede diplomatic immunity and precedent if it means responding to Iranian-backed terror.
And the EU’s stance could not come at a better time. Biden’s foreign policy position is shifting away from the Middle East. An example of Biden’s U-turn was removing the Houthi’s militia from the US foreign terrorist organisation (FTO) list. Although a move intended to provide aid for the starving people of Yemen, it has also been criticised as a way to funnel money into the pockets of Iranian-backed extremists. Since Biden lifted this designation on February 12, 48 ballistic missiles and drones have targeted Saudi Arabia, a stronghold of stability in the Middle East and a diplomatic ally of the West.
The new administration is instead focusing foreign policy directives towards Russia and China, a move Pompeo views as not only appeasement, but a grave error. Iran’s threat to national and global security cannot be met with a soft response by Western leaders. As Pompeo starkly claimed, “Iran knows how to drive a truck through American weakness”. But at the end of the day this is not solely an American problem, but a world problem.
“The EU needs to open its eyes to the reality of what is happening in the Middle East, and the impact that carries for the rest of the world”
This is also time for the EU to take a leadership position in the greatest post-COVID security threat - Iran. This may be through more sanctions, or through a stronger and more enforceable nuclear deal, or maybe by inviting Iran to a much-needed diplomatic discussion - either way, the EU needs to open its eyes to the reality of what is happening in the Middle East, and the impact that carries for the rest of the world.
The Biden administration’s approach to Iranian foreign policy has left a chasm that urgently needs to be filled by the EU. If not, the world stands vulnerable to more instability and terror.