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EU reluctant to sanction Iran for supporting Syrian regime

The Foreign Affairs Council decided this week to extend the sanctions against the Syrian regime and its supporters until 1 June 2019 for the on-going repression of the civilian population. Iran which actively has supported the regime both directly and via its proxy in Lebanon is not affected by the sanctions. The sanction list includes hundreds of Syrian persons and entities but apparently no-one from Iran. When asked at yesterday’s press briefing (30 May) by The Brussels Times whether Iran was also targeted, a Commission spokesperson declined to confirm and referred to EU’s “user-friendly” sanctions maps which are listing the sanctions adopted by UN or EU by country.

The sanction map does include Iran and mentions restrictive measures such as the prohibition of export of equipment which might be used for internal repressions. The measures were first put in place in April 2011 in relation to serious human rights violations in Iran.

Travel restrictions and an asset freeze were also introduced with respect to persons complicit in or responsible for directing or implementing grave human rights violations in the repression of peaceful demonstrators, journalists or other persons who speak up in defence of their rights. It is possible that the same persons have also been involved in similar violations in Syria.

Although EU foreign ministers also touched upon other issues outside the scope of the nuclear deal with Iran, in particular the “EU’s concerns over Iran’s ballistic missiles programme and the role of Iran in regional conflicts, not least in Syria and Yemen”, it seems reluctant to raise them with Iran.

The Council only mentions that a meeting took place with Iran on Yemen in beginning of May to “discuss concrete steps to build confidence”.

EU foreign policy chief Mogherini said in remarks after the Council meeting that “the other issues can be discussed in separate fora”, which would imply that they have not been discussed yet with Iran. Her spokesperson only referred to previous and future meetings without confirming whether Iran’s role in Syria and its military threats were on the agenda.

For the time being, EU is focussing on keeping the nuclear deal alive and maintaining the economic ties with Iran while highlighting the security importance of the nuclear deal.

“For us this is not about an economic interest, this is about a security interest for the EU – because in the absence of the nuclear deal with Iran, we believe the security of the region and of Europe would be at stake,” Mogherini said.

While new sanctions against Iran are excluded, EU continues to believe in its quiet diplomacy towards Iran. “We believe that engagement and dialogue is more productive than interrupting dialogue and going for confrontation. Normally it brings more results and we are committed to continue this way,” she said.

M. Apelblat
The Brussels Times