Achain of developments in quick succession appear to have spurred the formation of a latter- day Concert of Europe against Iran more than two centuries after that entity was founded (1815). In terms of timeline, an Iranian General was killed in a surgical strike by a US drone, the Iranians attacked US bases in Iraq, a passenger airliner from Tehran to Ukraine was shot down over Iran, and the latter admitted that the plane was shot by its forces, killing 176 innocents.

The recital would explain why Britain, France and Germany have on Tuesday initiated a process that could lead to United Nations sanctions being reimposed on Iran and the collapse of the 2015 nuclear deal. It might be rhetorical on the part of the respective governments to aver that the move was kickstarted “more in sorrow than in anger”, to recall the conversation between Hamlet and Horatio.

There has been a strained attempt to delink the concerted move on sanctions from the series of sensational developments. Ergo, the question is bound to survive ~ Why now? It appears to have been prompted by fears that Iran might be less than a year away from possessing the capacity to develop a nuclear bomb.

The three nations have rejected Tehran’s argument that Iran was justified in violating the deal because the United States broke the 2015 agreement by pulling out unilaterally in 2018. And yet it would be pertinent to recall that European powers have generally agreed that Iran had abided by the terms of the nuclear deal, concluded by Barack Obama and jettisoned by Donald Trump.

Unmistakable is the dramatic shift in geopolitics within a fortnight of the New Year. “We have therefore been left with no choice, given Iran’s actions, but to register today our concerns that Iran is not meeting its commitments,” the three countries said in a joint statement. They have clarified too that the move did not mean the EU was joining the Trump administration’s campaign of exerting maximum economic pressure on Iran.

For all that, a renewed cache of crippling sanctions from either side of the icy Atlantic will deal a still more crippling blow to Iran’s stuttering economy. European diplomats are sceptical that Trump’s policy of maximum economic pressure will persuade Iran to renegotiate the deal. They fear it will instead strengthen the position of hardliners in Tehran.

The Iranian foreign ministry issued a relatively mild response saying: “If Europeans, instead of keeping to their commitments and making Iran benefit from the lifting of the sanctions, misuse the dispute resolution mechanism, they’ll need to be prepared for the consequences that they have been informed about earlier.” The remarks seemed designed to be a warning that Europe should not go through the motions of the dispute mechanism quickly, and thus exacerbate the crisis further still. The waters are sufficiently murky already.