European companies engaged in business with Iran are enriching the country's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and inadvertently fueling its military activities in the wider Middle East, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir told CNBC on Sunday.
"We believe that a large percentage of the Iranian economy is controlled by the Revolutionary Guards and companies associated with the guards. And we believe that any dealings with those companies only serve to enrich the Revolutionary Guards and cause them to cause more mischief within the region and the world," Al-Jubeir said, referencing the billions of dollars' worth of deals struck between European companies and Iran since the lifting of international sanctions in 2015.
Tasked with defending the state and Iran's Islamic ideals, the powerful IRGC — the branch of Iran's military founded after the 1979 Islamic Revolution — is widely alleged to support militant activity by groups like Hezbollah around the region, from Iraq and Lebanon to Syria. It is also believed to control around a third of the country's economy.
The passing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015, which lifted international sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear development, saw a wave of new investment and business come into the country from Europe, led by Germany, France and the U.K. European multinationals Airbus, Siemens, Peugeot and Total have all struck major deals in the country worth billions.
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, America's top national security advisor H.R. McMaster described European nations like Germany doing business with Iran as essentially writing a blank check to the IRGC.
Asked if he agreed with McMaster's assessment, Al-Jubeir said yes.
"We are talking to our friends in Europe about this. We are letting them know that the nuclear agreement that was signed with Iran is lacking," Al-Jubeir said, describing what he believed were flaws within the agreement's sunset clause (the timeframe for restrictions on its nuclear development) and the thoroughness of United Nations (UN) inspections.
"We also believe the nuclear agreement itself does not resolve the issue of Iran's radical behavior which has to do with the ballistic missile resolutions of the United Nations … They also do not deal with the issue of Iran's support for terrorism," Al-Jubeir said.
Iran has consistently said it is abiding by all the parameters of the deal, a claim that has been backed up by UN inspectors.
Speaking Sunday to NBC News, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the U.S. was jeopardizing the nuclear deal.
"I believe President Trump has tried to walk away from that deal from day one of his presidency, and he has done everything in bad faith to prevent Iran from enjoying the benefits of the deal already. So we believe the United States is already in violation of very serious and important provisions of the nuclear deal," he said.
Between the singing of the JCPOA and February 2017, Iran conducted up to 14 missile tests, in violation of UN resolutions. The minister emphasized his government's belief that Iran should be punished for these alleged violations.
Sanctions on the IRCG have not been lifted, and many businesses remain wary of investing in Iran because any transaction that touches an IRGC-affiliated entity could be met with severe fines from the U.S.
While the U.S. has listed Iran as a state-sponsor of terror, it has not labeled the IRGC a terrorist organization, though in October of last year President Donald Trump said that the Corps had played "a central role to Iran becoming the world's foremost state sponsor of terror."
Fearing U.S. abandonment of the JCPOA, the foreign ministers of Germany, France and the U.K. in have urged the Trump administration to remain faithful to the deal, insisting that it is essential to international security. Federica Mogherini, the EU's top diplomat, said in January that it "made the world safer and prevented a potential nuclear arms race in the region."