“If Iran violates the deal, all of these sanctions will snap back into place,” President Obama said in his White House statement on the nuclear agreement. He added, “we’ve built in a snap-back provision so we don’t have to go through lengthy negotiations at the U.N. to put the sanctions right back in place.”
But any inspections at Iranian military facilities to which Iran objects, and the “snap-back” re-imposition of United Nations sanctions would require the United States government to win the unanimous support of Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy—ALL of them. This would be necessary to have the five votes required under the agreement’s Dispute Resolution Mechanism to override objections from Iran, Russia, and China. (See Articles 36-37 and Annex I Article 78). And, under the Treaty of Lisbon rules controlling the EU’s “Common Foreign and Security Policy,” key decisions on the CFSP require unanimous approval by ALL 28 MEMBERS of the European Union.
It may be true that “No one country could block a snap-back of sanctions,” as Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz said, but no one country—not even the United States—could re-impose them either unless all of Europe went along.
Sanctions on Iran were always less popular in Europe than the United States, not least because Germany and other members of the EU were the principal trading partners of Iran before the nuclear sanctions were imposed. The first U.S. sanctions were imposed by President Clinton in 1995 and by Congress in 1996, but they were fiercely opposed by European governments and companies. Europe did not impose its own sanctions on Iran until fifteen years later, in 2010.
And now that a new Gold Rush of European companies wooing Iran is underway, the fabric of European dependency on Iran contracts is being rewoven. Germany may well return to being Iran’s largest trading partner, followed by France and the U.K. Until 2010, Germany had 12,000 full-time trade representatives in Tehran, representing companies like Linde, BASF, Lurgi, Krupp, Siemens, ZF Friedrichshafen, Mercedes, Volkswagen and MAN. Germany many again become Iran’s most important supplier of machines, equipment and technologies, and the rest of Europe won’t be far behind.
European governments will be under great pressure to keep the conveyor belt of commerce with Iran lubricated, not to look for Iranian violations and punish them with profit-busting sanctions all over again. The spin-meisters may label it “snap back,” but that’s the last thing that’s going to happen in the event of an Iranian violation.
President Obama keeps telling his critics, “Read the agreement!” But when you do, you discover these rotten provisions all over the place, because it is full of holes. Obama’s negotiators were some of the smartest people in Washington. But they began with the instruction, “Go negotiate the best agreement that Iran will sign.” From the outset, the guiding principle was “Zeal for the Deal.”
When Americans go into the Tehran bazaar to buy that Persian carpet, and the merchant overhears the husband whisper to the wife, “I’m not leaving this shop without it,” he will rub his hands with glee. “Barack Obama!”
Steven J. Rosen is Washington Project Director of the Middle East Forum, and previously Foreign Policy Director of AIPAC.