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European diplomats have convinced themselves that they must abide by the flawed 2015 nuclear deal with Iran to demonstrate their credibility. Their latest attempt to keep the deal alive despite U.S. opposition shows otherwise.

Behold the special-purpose vehicle, unveiled last week by the European Commission and Europe's three signatories to the 2015 deal. The SPV, now christened the Instrument for Supporting Trade Exchange (Instex), is supposed to allow European Union companies to keep trading with Iran under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Instex will do this by managing complex barter transactions to avoid running afoul of sanctions the U.S. re-imposed last year when it withdrew from the nuclear deal.

The EC, Germany, France and the United Kingdom are clinging to the flawed agreement out of fear that Tehran might start developing the nuclear weapons Tehran intends to develop eventually anyway. They also hope to demonstrate European independence from American economic influence.

Yet already Instex is shaping up to be a major flop. To ensure it doesn't run afoul of Washington, it will facilitate only trade in humanitarian goods not covered by U.S. sanctions. Most large companies are likely to avoid trading via Instex in any case, for fear of legal problems in Washington if Iran misdirects the proceeds.

Talk about pointless. European leaders are well aware that much of Tehran's dangerous behavior isn't addressed by the JCPOA, including Iran's conventional-weapons proliferation and its efforts to destabilize neighbors via terrorist proxies. Dutch authorities say Iran was involved in plots to kill two opponents of the regime in 2015 and 2017. Denmark and France have accused Tehran of plotting bomb attacks on regime critics on their soil.

This argues for Europe joining Washington in a new, tougher approach to Iran that relieves sanctions only after substantial proof of better regime behavior. With Instex, European governments are committing themselves even further to diplomacy that prizes the JCPOA process over serious results. So much for credibility.

-- The Wall Street Journal

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