The EU must act on Iran


IRAN’S ayatollahs are once more on the ropes. Swingeing fuel price rises have so far triggered four days of rioting across the country which are thought to have left scores of dead, though officially the government only admits to a dozen killings.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has backed the increases in fuel prices of up to 50 percent and blamed the protests on “hooligans” and “counter-revolutionaries”. The fact that the angry demonstrations have attracted widespread support suggests that far from being “hooligans,” those who have taken to the streets are ordinary people whose patience has once more been tried to the limit by the regime’s manifold failures. But Khamenei may well be right that the protesters are “counter-revolutionaries”. After 40 years of rule by the ayatollahs, many Iranians have simply had enough. Past revolts against the venality and incompetence of the ruling elite have been crushed ruthlessly by the Praetorians of the Revolutionary Guard and vicious pro-regime vigilantes. But in 1979 the Shah was overthrown by a popular revolution rooted in disgust at his misrule and the oppression of his Savak secret police. Iranians rose up demanding change and for a few short years it seemed they might have achieved it. But before long, it became apparent that what had come about had in fact been change for the worse. Many of the brightest and best who had made the revolution fled abroad in despair at the corrupt theocratic police state to which they had helped give birth.

Iran’s political, social and diplomatic woes are a direct result of the ayatollahs’ long years of misrule. They have once again been cruelly exposed by President Trump’s reimposition of sanctions. What is notable is that the new American economic and financial restrictions have hit home so hard, despite the fact that the regime knew it could expect them because of its determination to press on with the acquisition of nuclear weaponry. When Obama caved in over the Geneva nuclear accord, billions of dollars of Iranian assets were released. The country had a window of opportunity to rebuild rapidly. It is the clearest indictment of the regime that it failed to use the money to immediately set about wholesale reconstruction.

And there is another remarkable factor. It is only the US that is now imposing workable sanctions. The Russians and Chinese, lukewarm signatories of the Geneva deal, were always going to play their own game. And to their shame, European Union states have refused to join Trump in turning the economic screws. Yet still Tehran is struggling financially, unable to make ends meet. The removal of fuel subsidies is only the latest economic blow to ordinary Iranian families struggling to survive.

And here perhaps is the point. Were EU states prepared to join Washington in cutting the economic lifelines that they provide to Tehran, the ayatollahs could be brought back to the negotiating table sooner rather than later. A new deal would end their nuclear program once and for all. But no less importantly, it could include an enforceable commitment for Tehran to end its egregious and deadly interference in the affairs of its Arab neighbors, the majority of whom are allies to both the United States and the EU. It is within the power of Brussels to end the agony of Iranians.