European powers step up efforts to address Iran’s destabilizing role in region

By Ahmad Majidyar | Fellow and Director of IranObserved Project - The Middle East Institute | Feb 20, 2018
European powers step up efforts to address Iran’s destabilizing role in region

The Iranian Foreign Ministry reacted angrily to latest statements by France and Britain about Tehran’s hard power strategies that promote instability in the Middle East. French and British officials recently expressed the concern that Iran is exacerbating the Yemeni civil war by providing ballistic missiles to Houthi rebels and is escalating tension with Israel from Syria. But Bahram Qassemi, the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s spokesman, rejected the allegations and claimed that the Yemeni rebels do not need Iranian weapons. Qassemi also described French President Emmanuel Macron’s suggestion to place Iran’s controversial ballistic missile program under international surveillance as “irresponsible” and emphasized that Iran will not accept other countries’ “meddling” in its defense and deterrence programs. The Iranian diplomat called on Europe to halt selling arms to Middle Eastern countries. 

Comment: Since President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, he has ratcheted up pressure on Iran and threatened to terminate the Iran nuclear deal unless Congress and Europe take measures to fix the agreement’s loopholes. The Trump administration has particularly asked Europe to help curb Iran’s ballistic missile program and push back against Iran’s growing influence in the region. 

Since European powers want to keep and implement the nuclear accord, the Rouhani government has been trying to drive a wedge between Europe and the United States. Tehran hopes that European countries prevent Washington from canceling the nuclear deal and also continue to encourage investment in Iran to shore up the country’s sluggish economy and minimize the impact of unilateral US sanctions. 

But the latest statements from Britain, France and Germany – which are signatories of the nuclear agreement – appear to have worried Tehran. 

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson this week urged Iran to stop its destabilizing role in Yemen. “I call on Iran to cease activity which risks escalating the conflict and to support a political solution to the conflict in Yemen,” he said in a statement. European diplomats also discussed Tehran’s regional role with Iranian diplomats on the sidelines of the Munch conference over the weekend. An Iranian Foreign Ministry delegation is also scheduled to visit London for further talks on Iran’s missile program and regional policies. And when French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian travels to Tehran in early March, Iran’s actions in Syria and Yemen and the country’s missile program will top the agenda of his meeting with Iranian leaders. Yesterday, France also expressed concern about the findings of a UN Panel of Experts, which say Iran is not complying with the arms embargo imposed by UN Security Council Resolution 2216.