The vacuous European-US debate on Iran gets us precisely nowhere

It’s a bad deal. It’s the best deal we’re likely to get.

These are essentially the positions being taken by the US and Europe respectively with regards to the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran. In our polarised world, these positions are being presented as fundamentally opposed. Trump is evil or stupid – or both – to the critics. The Europeans are weak, naive and in thrall to commercial interests wanting to do business with Iraq, according to the US administration.

In fact, there is no inherent contradiction in the two positions. A deal may be a bad deal, but it doesn’t mean that a better one is achievable. It may be the best available deal, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a good deal.

The US and European positions on Iran represent two different perspectives on how best to achieve an outcome that everyone (though maybe not the Iranian regime and its Russian and Chinese supporters) wishes to achieve – avoiding Iran developing nuclear weapons and stopping its sponsorship of terrorist activity in the Middle East.

The JCPOA deal achieves many things. It has stopped or paused Iran developing nuclear technology for military uses and allows outside verification of compliance. In return, Iranian sanctions were lifted.

What it did not do was address Iran’s ballistic missile tests or its role in Middle East conflicts. Further, limits on Iran’s military use of nuclear technology expire in 10 to 15 years.

Everyone agrees that the deal is incomplete. That the outstanding issues need to be addressed at some stage – though nobody is clear as to when or how. The European position is that, once sanctions are eased and the Iranian people see the benefits of integration with the rest of the world, then the time will come to push further.

The US position takes a different view. Easing of sanctions will strengthen the regime and fill Iran’s coffers. After 15 years of relative prosperity and a stronger economy, Iran will be in a much better position to abandon the deal and resume its nuclear weapons programme. Best to demand more now when Iran is still down than wait to re-negotiate when it is stronger.

It’s fair to say that both positions are credible. It’s a brave person who can state with absolute certainty that one option is surely superior to the other.

My objective here is not to try to offer a solution to a complex issue. Many better minds have been working on that for years. It is just to bring out the sad fact that our current preference for polarization and tribalism over open discussion obscures the difficulties associated with fiendishly complex situations such as that in Iran.

The discussion is reduced to “Trump is an idiot” or “The Europeans are weak and venal”. All we have to do is to jump to one side or the other and then dismiss anything said by what we have classified as the opposing side.

We’re never going to solve anything with this approach.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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