Western sanctions on Iran signal fading hopes for nuclear deal, experts say

EU, US and UK join forces in boosting sanctions on Tehran for crackdown on protesters

Nuclear deal at significant risk of no return. Reuters
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The hardening of EU sanctions on Iran has lessened hopes for a nuclear deal, experts told The National on Tuesday.

This week, the West stepped up pressure on Iran over its crackdown on anti-government protests as the EU, UK and US imposed fresh sanctions on several senior Iranian officials and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Co-operative Foundation.

“EU sanctions send a diplomatic warning to Iran’s government that the EU is getting closer to the US and Israeli positions, and that hope for the nuclear deal is fading in Brussels and European capitals,” Michael Knights, expert at the Washington Institute for Middle East Policy, told The National.

“If the EU issues important report sanctions, that means they are one step closer to considering supporting the snapback on UN sanctions, which could seriously affect Chinese and Russian engagement with Iran’s oil and defence sectors.”

Mr Knights predicted the nuclear deal was unlikely to return.

The EU imposed sanctions that hit 37 officials and entities with asset freezes and visa bans, including units of the Revolutionary Guards, blaming them for a “brutal” crackdown on unrest and other human rights abuses.

It was the EU's fourth round of sanctions against Iran since the protests started last September.

Iran responded late on Monday by condemning the newly imposed sanctions and threatening to retaliate.

The US and Britain also issued new sanctions against Iran, reflecting a deterioration in the West's already dire relations with Tehran.

The imposition of American sanctions on Iran was the ninth round since Tehran began its deadly crackdown on protesters who are demanding reforms to the system.

The West’s hardline approach to Tehran stems is in response to the regime's crackdown on protests as well as concerns over deepening military co-operation between Iran and Russia, Naysan Rafati, Crisis Group's Iran senior analyst, told The National.

“Those two issues have mobilised the western response we've been seeing over the past few months, most recently in the co-ordinated sanctions announcements from the EU, UK and US this week,” Mr Rafati said.

He added that concerns over Iran's nuclear programme have not gone away, as Tehran continues to expand “its enrichment capacity while its facilities operate under reduced international monitoring”.

There seems to be little drive to revive the 2015 nuclear deal but the West prefer to keep the diplomatic resolution open to avoid further escalation, he said.

On the other hand, the hardening of the EU position will mean the bloc and its member states will no longer be viable interlocutors with Iran, said Sanam Vakil, deputy director and senior research fellow at Chatham House's Middle East North Africa Programme.

“This will become problematic when tensions rise and realisation over the lack of plan Bs regarding Iran's accelerating nuclear programme sets in,” Mr Vakil told The National.

Iran's deadly clampdown on unrest after the death of Mahsa Amini in morality police custody in September has drawn international attention and condemnation.

Iran's foreign ministry spokesman said the new sanctions were a sign of EU and UK “desperation, frustration and fury over their recent scandalous failure in creating instability in Iran despite huge efforts and costs”.

Authorities said hundreds of people, including members of the security forces, have been killed and thousands arrested during what they have labelled “riots” incited by the “enemies” of the nation.

Updated: January 24, 2023, 4:18 PM
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