Turkey’s President Erdoğan has confirmed that he is willing to mediate in order to help Iran and the United States reach some sort of agreement to freeze the currently rising levels of tension between the two foes. Erdoğan recalled a conversation he held with Japanese Prime Minister Abe during the G20 summit in which he put himself forward as someone happy to discuss the situation with the Iranian leadership.
In late June, Donald Trump confirmed that he is ready to make a new nuclear deal with Iran. He also stated that he is equally happy for this new deal to be a bilateral one or a new multilateral one in the way that 2015’s JCPOA was.
One of the biggest flaws in the original process which led to the formation of the JCPOA was that none of Iran’s neighbours were involved. In particular, as a country that has historically looked both west and east and as a country that is both a major buyer of Iranian energy (prior to the new sanctions) as well as a member of NATO, Turkey is an ideal choice to sit at the bargaining table. When Donald Trump first withdrew from the JCPOA, Turkey became a stanch defender of the 2015 agreement. Speaking about the need to preserve Iran’s normalised trading status in a more vocal and pugnacious manner than anyone in the EU, Turkey’s President Erdoğan in particular was a stalwart spokesman for Iran’s cause at a time when even China and Russia confined their positions to more restrained diplomatic venues.
By contrast, the European leaders who claimed to be robust defenders of the JCPOA have proved themselves to be essentially useless when it comes to acting in a manner that is independent of US influence. Whilst it remains the position of Brussels, Berlin, Paris and to a much lesser extent London that the JCPOA was working, the special mechanism set up in Paris to allow EU-Iran transactions to continue has been a damp squib – a more or less total failure. The US has called the EU’s bluff and as such, most major European companies have literally run away from Iran because of the very real fear of heavy sanctions from Washington.
It is within this context that one should read the following remarks from Donald Trump:
“I don’t care about the Europeans. The Europeans are going out and making a lot of money…In France, they’re selling cars to Iran. They’re doing other things”.
In classic Trump fashion, the US President has exposed the fact that whilst Iran has openly expressed disappointment at the EU’s impotence over the JCPOA, the EU has likewise never actually cared for the JCPOA because of its theoretical potential to preserve what’s left of peace in the Middle East/western Eurasia. Instead, European companies saw the JCPOA as an opportunity for corporate enrichment which in and of itself is not a bad thing. However, what this did mean is that when pushed to choose between business with Iran and business with the world’s largest economy, the United States – European business made the obvious choice and one which had nothing to do with preserving peace.
As such, due to Europe’s categorical failure to defend its own perceived interests and to do what it said it was going to do for Iran, one remains unconvinced that Europe should have any role in a Trump lead JCPOA 2.0.
Therefore, if the process is going to be a multilateral one, the US, China and Russia are obvious choices as they were in 2015. But instead of a listless Europe, Turkey should be included in the dialogue as Turkey requires productive and peaceful relations with its Iranian neighbour whilst Turkey also understands the Chinese, Russia and American perspectives due to its important relations with all three superpowers.