The United Kingdom, France, and Germany are developing a plan for new and revised sanctions on Iran in relation to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), according to a document revealed on March 16. The joint paper addressing changes to JCPOA, also known as the Iran nuclear deal, was sent to the leaders of the three countries in order to feel out support for a new round of sanctions, which would need the approval of the 28 European Union member states in order to be enacted.
The proposed sanctions primarily build on existing sanctions related to Syria, including travel bans, asset freezes, and bans on doing business or financing certain public and private companies. They also “target militias and commanders” that pose a threat to regional stability.
Many experts believe that renegotiation in search of a better deal for Europe and the United States would be extremely challenging and generally infeasible. The diplomatic situation is particularly difficult considering that many Iranians feel that the deal disadvantages Iran and not the West. The Iranian economy continues to struggle even as Western nations roll back pre-JCPOA sanctions. In the meantime, Iran has given up what it views as major national security interests.
While President Donald Trump decided in October 2017 to no longer certify JCPOA as a vital national interest under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, the United States is still in technical compliance with the deal since Congress has so far not voted to reimpose sanctions.
The proposed new sanctions serve ostensibly as a response to both Iran’s continuing role in the Syrian Civil War and its continued ballistic missile program. However, in January 2018, Trump insisted that the United States would not continue to waive sanctions unless Europe and the United States address several major issues including the missile program, International Atomic Energy Agency inspections, and the expiration of uranium enrichment restrictions. Therefore, the new European proposal serves mostly as a political effort to incentivize the United States to preserve the nuclear deal. Iran, meanwhile, has urged the West not to adopt any new sanctions.
While the new sanctions proposals have yet to be ratified, the plan demonstrates a willingness from the European powers to meet Trump’s ultimatum in the interest of preserving the nuclear deal. Final European decisions on the new sanctions and the American response may prove decisive for the fate of the deal, especially with the nomination of an outspoken critic of JCPOA, Mike Pompeo, as secretary of state. For now, the deal remains in effect, but its future continues to be uncertain.