Monday, 27 Jan 2020 - 1 of Shevat, 5780

Calls for the EU to play a ‘greater’ role in the Middle East

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Faced with protests over the accidental downing of a Ukrainian jetliner, Iran could calm tensions at home and abroad by returning to the application of the nuclear agreement, said German MEP Michael Gahler of the European People’s Party. If not, Iran should face new sanctions, he added.

STRASBOURG—Members of the European Parliament have called on EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell ‘’to do even more’’ to reduce tensions in the Middle East.

“We need to play an even more active intermediary role in the region. We had the opportunity to contribute to de-escalation after the recent events through numerous contacts in the region”, said German MEP Michael Gahler, foreign affairs spokesperson for the European People’s Party (EPP), the largest political group in the EU parliament.

During this week’s plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, MEPs debated the situation in Iran following the recent escalations. Relations between the US and Iran were put under further strain when the US killed top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad on January 3.

Faced with protests over the accidental downing of a Ukrainian jetliner, Iran could calm tensions at home and abroad by by returning to the application of the nuclear agreement, Gahler also said. If not, Iran should face new sanctions, he added.

He also urged international troops to stay in Iraq, despite the call by Iraq´s Parliament to pull them out. This followed the US killing of Soleimani who had ties to extremist militias waging attacks in the region.

The nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was concluded to ensure Iran’s nuclear program remains peaceful in exchange for lifting restrictive measures against the country. It was signed in July 2015 by Iran, France, Germany, the UK and the EU plus China, Russia and the US.

Donald Trump, who became president of the US in January 2017, has consistently opposed the deal. In January 2018 he announced the US would stop implementing the agreement until its “disastrous flaws” could be addressed. Despite efforts by the EU to address his concerns, Trump announced in May 2018 that the US was withdrawing from the deal and would re-impose sanctions. These sanctions mean American firms are banned from doing business with Iran while foreign businesses that do so risk significant fines and being blocked from the US banking and financial system.

The European Union continued to defend the nuclear deal and even tried to come up with measures to enable companies to continue doing business with Iran without being penalised by the US.

Iran initially continued to comply with the agreement, but gradually announced deviations from the original deal, such as breaking the limit on how much low-grade uranium it could keep.

Tensions flared after the US announced at the beginning of January that it had killed Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force, in an airstrike at Baghdad airport. US authorities said he was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service member in Iran and nearby countries.

Shortly after the strike, Iran announced it was withdrawing from the JCPOA deal and attacked two US military bases in Iraq with missile attacks in retaliation.

The situation further escalated after Iran said on 11 January that it had accidentally shot down a Ukraine International Airlines flight, killing all 176 people on board. Following the announcement, Iranians protested on the streets

The EU has called for a de-escalation of the situation and on Sunday France, Germany and the UK urged Iran to again comply with its commitments under the nuclear deal.

On Tuesday, Britain, France and Germany triggered a mediation process aimed at forcing Iran to return to compliance with limits placed on its nuclear program or facing the re-imposition of international sanctions.

The Eu’s role in the world

In comments about the crisis in the Middle East, the President of the European Council, Belgian Charles Michel insisted last week that the EU should play a bigger role in the world stage.

“It’s very important for the European Union not only to observe what the others would decide for us but it’s important for the European Union to be an actor, to be a player,” he said during a meeting in Zagreb with  Andrej Plenković, the Prime Minister of Croatia, the country which took over the rotating presidency of the EU Council of ministers.

 

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