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publish date : 10 Sunday September 2017      18:46

How Far Will EU Go Backing Iran in Nuclear Deal?

In an op-ed for pro-reform online outlet Entekhab, Yasser Nouralivand argues that it depends on Iran, not the US.

Ever since the Rouhani administration’s foreign policy apparatus put détente and cooperation with the West on its agenda, Europe was placed as mediator between Iran and the US, longtime archenemies. The Rouhani administration’s policy closely resembles that of the Khatami administration in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Then, Iran-Europe ties underwent an unprecedented era after two decades of tension, upgraded so vigorously that Europe stood against the US for the first time since the Revolution and refused to implement international Iran sanctions, known as ISA. The growing trend did not last long. With Ahmadinejad in office, the relations reached their lowest level, as Europeans not only joined hands with the US but also went ahead to impose heavy sanctions on Iran. Today, history is repeating itself: with Iran-Europe ties returning to the late 1990s and simultaneous new sanctions imposed by the US, it seems that Europe once again has to choose between Iran and the US.


The two different experiences of a cooperative and hostile Europe in the past two decades has sparked the question among analyst of whether the continent chooses an approach similar to that of the late 90s or one resembling the late 2000s.


Based on existing evidence in today’s international politics, including Europe’s inclination to boost economic ties with Iran, their sensitivity toward the future of the nuclear deal, and divergence from the hawkish Trump administration, some believe that Europeans will choose Iran. Others believe that Europeans are US’ strategic allies after all and that they choose the US when it comes to priorities and larger interests.


I believe that viewing Europe’s role in the tension between Iran and the US from these two perspective only reveals part of the reality, and being an analytical miscalculation, fails to include a proper understanding of Europe’s approach. Legitimizing any of the two would bring us futile optimism or cynicism, drawing us to a bigger mistake, which is flawed strategic decision-making.


Basically, it not logical for Europe to expose itself to such a choice and the situation does not mean having to choose between Iran and the US. The truth is neither Europe’s 1990s approach meant choosing Iran nor did its 2000s approach mean choosing the US. In its choices and orientations, the EU has always authenticated one thing: diplomacy in a context of ‘cooperative activism’ to realize the common interests of its members. The significance of EU’s role in the international system lies in its art of diplomacy. The EU is essentially a diplomatic player and reciprocal interaction and interactive diplomacy direct its choices.


Now, let us review the history of ties one more time. In the late 1990s, when the Islamic Republic opted for cooperation and diplomacy, the EU welcomed the approach and relations began to develop very soon. The Europeans saw the D’Amato sanctions confrontational, disturbing the cooperative atmosphere. Europe chose to cooperate instead of confronting. The cooperation continued until mid-2000s, even though Iran’s nuclear activities were abruptly unveiled. In other words, Europeans pursued cooperation and détente despite US opposition, as long as they were on Iran’s agenda. The European troika (Britain, France, Germany) played the main role in Paris-Tehran talks over the nuclear issue.


In the late 2000s and early 2010s, the Ahmadinejad administration turned to a confrontational policy. Even though the EU did its best to leave open the diplomatic channel to the nuclear issue, it was finally left with no choice but to join the US. Rather than siding with the US, it was more of a response to Iran’s confrontational policies and EU’s security priorities. Thus, without trying to neglect US’ influential role, the past two decades indicate that Europe’s choices are driven by our choices and type of policies, and their convergence or divergence with EU’s security and economic priorities, rather than US’ influence.


Today, Iran has once again chosen comprehensive cooperation with the world. The result has been the solution of the nuclear issue and development of ties with Europe and other international players. However, the Trump administration has adopted a confrontational policy against Iran and the nuclear deal and even imposed new sanctions on the country. So far, the Europeans have shown they are not joining the US, as they are now speaking of continued implementation of the JCPOA without the US. It seems that Iran’s choice, approach, and convergence with Europeans’ security and economic priorities have overcome US’ influence on Europe. Nonetheless, Europe’s approach does not mean choosing Iran and leaving the US. It means choosing cooperation, rather than confrontation, the most urgent need in today’s global politics.


The European Union considers the nuclear deal its greatest diplomatic achievement, result of multilateral cooperation, which could contribute to regional and global peace and stability. EU’s advocacy of the nuclear deal today should be assessed in the same light. Just like they are warning the US of the consequences of violating the deal or walking out, reaction will doubtlessly reverse if Iran wants to violate or walk out of the accord. Therefore, continued cooperation with Europe and keeping them on their own side either to protect the deal and further develop the ties or as leverage to neutralize US policies depends more on our approach and convergence with EU priorities than on the type of relations between the US and Europe. We know from experience that as long as the Islamic Republic choose cooperation and avoids adventurous and confrontational measures, Europeans see no reason for tension and confrontation with Iran and continue to keep and develop their ties with Iran in spite of US pressures, even though they may choose to boost or reduce their relations with the US.

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