While Gordon Sondland, US ambassador to the European Union, has dismissed the bloc’s move to set up a separate channel to trade with Iran, known as a Special-Purpose Vehicle (SPV), as “nothing more than a paper tiger”, evidence suggests that the payment mechanism is getting off to a good start.
In first reaction to the new round of US sanctions against Iran, German Government Spokesman Steffen Seibert said last week that his country is convinced that it should enable legal business relations with Iran and is checking how to protect companies affected by US sanctions reimposed on Iran.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass, who has described supporting for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as a barometer that shows how much the EU is independent from the US, told Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in a phone call on November 3 that it is part of ‘Germany’s strategy’ to try to establish the planned SPV.
In fact, the recent reactions prove that the US has faced an unprecedented isolation, much sooner than it had been anticipated, after announcing the new batch of its sanctions on November 4.
One of the main reasons for the rejection of the Trump administration’s ‘inhumane sanctions’ on Iran has been the insistence of the European Union, and in particular Germany, on Europe’s independence from the US bullying policies.
The JCPOA is so important to the EU that one can say the bloc’s independence vis-à-vis US unilateralism hinges on it.
It is needless to say that the EU’s failure to preserve the JCPOA would badly dent the bloc’s future and identity in the eyes of many international organizations and independent countries.
The German newspaper Handelsblatt quoted Christian Dürr, a German politician of the Free Democratic Party, as saying that “the government should adopt effective measures to render more support to the German firms active in Iran.”
Germany is now trying to keep protecting its firms in Iran using the Hermes cover — an export credit guarantee (ECG) by the German Federal Government which is an important part of German foreign trade policy and protects German companies in the event of non-payment by foreign debtors.
In addition, the planned SPV, the blocking statute, and keeping Iran’s access to the Belgium-based SWIFT financial messaging service are among the other measures supported by Germany to keep the JCPOA in place.
This comes as Germany has shown some symbolic resistance against the US pressures to leave the Iranian market as well.
The auto-making Volkswagen Company, unlike Daimler-Benz, has defied calls to officially leave Iran. And German airline Lufthansa is still operating flights in the country.
This is while British Airways and Air France said in late August they would halt flights to Iran "as the operation is currently not commercially viable."
Overall, it is true that the EU’s political support for Iran nuclear deal has been more assertive than the bloc’s support in terms of economy, but there remains a strong will to increase economic relations with Iran even after the reimposition of the US sanctions, something that has made the White House furious with the EU.
The success of the EU-Iranian diplomacy in turning the JCPOA from a model of US animosity towards an international agreement into a global front against Washington’s unilateralism has, in practice, caused the first rift in transatlantic relations.
Hossein Ziaee is a freelance journalist.