U.S. President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to pull his country’s support for the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran leaves Greece with little choice but to follow its European partners in trying to salvage the deal.
Speaking on Tuesday evening, Trump said he would sign a memorandum reinstating U.S. sanctions against the Islamic Republic, thereby further hollowing-out another achievement of his predecessor, Barack Obama.
However, key U.S. allies such as France and Germany have said they will stick with the deal, which was seen as a way of encouraging Tehran to drop its plans to develop nuclear weapons in return for restored access to international markets and trade.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had been one of the first Western leaders to visit Iran after the lifting of international sanctions.
Speaking in February 2016 he said: “Greece will become an energy, economic and trade bridge between Iran and European Union,” as international sanctions against the Iranian regime began to ease.
Now, that “bridge” between Tehran and the West appears to be falling down.
Greece maintains an Office of Economic and Commercial Affairs in Tehran and there are no immediate plans to close it.
According to a Financial Tribune report in January this year, Eurostat data revealed how trade between Iran and Greece exceeded €1.23 million ($1.4 million) during the 11 months to Nov. 30 — a 92 percent hike compared with the same period in 2017.
However, Greece’s heightened links with Iran saw Athens being described as a “trophy country” for Tehran in a 2016 report by the Gatestone Institute, with Greek shipping links to Sunni Arab Gulf states being of particular concern to Iran’s leadership.
Since then there have been relatively few high-level bilateral engagements between Athens and Tehran, the last being the visit to the Greek capital of Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Takht-e-Ravanchi in July 2016.
Meanwhile, Greece’s neighbor Turkey has said it will continue dealing with Iran come what may with Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci on Tuesday insisting Ankara would plot its own course with Tehran.
The two countries have a complex relationship and back rival proxies in Syria but both have significantly deteriorated relationships with Washington, something only partly alleviated in Ankara’s case by Turkey’s NATO membership.
Trump’s withdrawal from the “rotten deal” with Iran has also seen fuel prices shoot up amid market uncertainty and volatility. CNN Money reported that renewed U.S. sanctions would see around one million barrels of oil “pulled from the market”.
Some analysts fear oil prices could shoot up to $80 a barrel in the short term, leading to higher fuel prices to energy-importing countries like Greece.
In all likelihood, Greece will move with the EU as it tries to protect European firms which are doing business in Iran. There is an EU-Iran summit planned for next week and three of the deal’s signatories remain key EU members — France, Germany and, for now, the U.K.
Greece’s Foreign Ministry says it and Iran “are linked by thousands of years of common history. Their political relations, today, are at a very good level.”
Whether those links can withstand punitive sanctions and pressure from the U.S. Treasury remains to be seen.