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We need a new approach to Iran

Britain and all EU countries need to intensify their dialogue with Israel and the Gulf States...for a broad de-escalation of regional tensions, writes David Wayne MP | PA Images

4 min read

We must secure a new agreement with Iran which focus on human rights, as well as restricting and monitoring the country’s nuclear capability.

President Trump’s ‘maximum pressure campaign’ against Iran has been an abject failure. 

The unilateral withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear accord and unprecedented sanctions against the country have had the opposite of their intended effect, undermining any diplomatic progress and driving Iran away from compliance.

Iran meanwhile has deliberately breached the agreement, stockpiling more than twelve times the amount of enriched uranium permitted by the 2015 nuclear deal.  Iran is now significantly closer to developing a nuclear weapon than it has ever been.  At the same time Iran has suffered hugely because of the sanctions and anti-western sentiment has increased as a consequence.

One of Joe Biden’s priorities when he becomes President of the United States later this month must be to end this impasse.  He must engage with Iran and ensure that it complies with the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).  This can only be done if the US re-joins the JCPOA and offers Tehran the possibility of American sanctions being eased.

To date, Joe Biden has indicated that he will pursue an approach which is based on “compliance for compliance”.  This is to be warmly welcomed and there needs to be a positive and concerted response from Britain, France and Germany (the so-called E3 countries) and our European partners generally to ensure that Iran is brought into full international diplomatic engagement. 

Close cooperation with European partners is now vital as the UK’s transition period has come to end

For this to happen the inspection ability of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) needs to be strengthened and, at the same time, Britain and all EU countries need to intensify their dialogue with Israel and the Gulf States.  The message to them must be the necessity for a broad de-escalation of regional tensions.  Equally, we need to acknowledge that the United Nations has a key role to play, especially with regard to Yemen. 

The E3 process is a good example of the sort of diplomatic mechanisms the UK government needs to invest in post-Brexit. It has been an important conduit to keep the JCPOA alive amid the Trump administration’s actions. Close cooperation with European partners is now vital as the UK’s transition period has come to end.

It would, however, be unwise to believe that restoring full compliance with the JCPOA would be enough to address all the concerns raised by Iran’s activities. The JCPOA says nothing about Iran’s ballistic missile programme, which is designed to deliver nuclear weapons, nor its support for terrorist groups and militias throughout the Middle East. These issues need to be addressed and although the British government believes that a long-term perspective is needed, there is an imperative to move those issues firmly up the international agenda. 

The aim must be a new agreement with Iran which includes much more than restricting and monitoring the country’s nuclear capability, important as that is.

Any consideration of Iran needs also to focus on human rights.  ‘State Hostage Taking’ must be at the forefront of our minds, so long as there are arbitrarily detained nationals in Iran, and Britain needs to work closely with other countries to bring this to an end.

Similarly, given the widespread human rights abuses which are occurring in Iran, Britain needs to go beyond its current approach of discrete pressure and actively consider extending Magnitsky-style sanctions against key perpetrators.

Iran is an ancient country with a rich culture. It is capable of developing a strong and diverse economy and has the potential to be a positive member of the international community.  But whether that happens depends not just on developments in Tehran but on the strategic, international policy decisions of the new American President.  So far, the indications from Joe Biden are extremely encouraging; it is now up to us, in Britain and the EU, to work as closely as we can with the new President to make sure our relationship with Iran changes for the better.


Wayne David is the Labour MP for Caerphilly and shadow foreign, commonwealth and development minister for the Middle East and North Africa.

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