Importance of Confidence-Building in Iran's Relations with the European Union

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Said Khaloozadeh
Ph.D. in Political Science from University of Paris, Senior Expert in European Studies & University Professor

Recognizing the correct position and status of every country and regional organization in international political system is a very important concern in the foreign policy of any country. Evaluation of the countries’ interests in international system sometimes forces foreign policy officials of those countries to continuously reassess their country’s standing within the framework of international system and also to come up with suitable strategies and solutions in order to pursue their national interests. Adopting a more active role by the European Union (EU) with regard to international issues has been among the most important global political development during the past two decades. The Islamic Republic of Iran, as one of the most important political players in the Middle East, is both influenced by and influences these developments and, of course, like all other players seeks to meet its own interests by affecting the new international structures which are currently in the offing.

Under present circumstances, Iran's nuclear energy program is one of the main aspects of relations between Iran and the EU and, as an independent variable, has had a powerful impact on the quality and quantity of those relations.  Iran's nuclear activities during the past years have been among the most important issues which have left their mark on bilateral relations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the European Union and have overshadowed not only the political relations between the two sides, but also other aspects of their relationship. A report released on Iran's nuclear energy program by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on May 26, 2008, in which the United Nations nuclear watchdog said it could not rule out that there is a military aspect to Iran's nuclear energy program, hardened the sanctions policy adopted against Iran by the United States and the EU. That hard and targeted policy has taken on more momentum since 2010. Election of Democrats in the United States paved the way for the convergence of polices adopted by Washington and the EU for imposing more sanctions against Iran. On the other hand, the United States distanced itself from the option of war with Iran which was already spearheaded by radical American politicians as well as Israel, and became more aligned with the EU’s sanctions diplomacy.

Iran's nuclear energy program has been one of the main excuses used by the EU member states to lower diplomatic relations with Iran over the past years. Meanwhile, although European authorities have owned up to Iran's right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, they are still beating the “lack of trust” drum as their American peers had done before. The European Union has been constantly calling for negotiations over Iran's nuclear issue as a prelude to normalization of ties with Tehran. On the other hand, during recent years, European countries, especially France, Britain, and Germany have been among the main supporters of anti-Iran resolutions at the United Nations Security Council and have also spearheaded anti-Iran sanctions over the country’s nuclear energy program. This issue has had a tangible effect on different levels of relations between Iran and the European countries. Therefore, dialogue and use of diplomatic means has gained in importance. Any future talks between the two sides should, therefore, be based on balanced grounds because success of such negotiation is of special and strategic importance to both sides as it bolsters their standing at international level. This issue [successful negotiations] will promote the position of Iran in regional and international equations while indicating a great success for the European Union’s foreign and security policies. As a result, it is of utmost symbolic importance to both parties.

The EU’s willingness to impose more sanctions on Iran has been shown at a time that all EU member states need Iran's economic capacities and cannot easily overlook them. The European states are well aware that if they imposed sanctions against presence of their companies in the Iranian market, companies from other countries like China, Russia, Turkey and so on will easily replace them. Imposing sanctions on Iran is basically not a good solution and will exhaust a lot of energy on both sides of the sanctions equation by imposing high costs on both of them. The two sides should, therefore, try to build mutual confidence and find common grounds to overcome their existing concerns. They should find a medium solution which would be satisfactory to both parties and help them to pass through this tumultuous phase of their relations en route to restoration of bilateral ties on the basis of mutual respect and common interests.

Confidence building and establishment of security are major steps which should be taken for the restoration of ties with the European Union. Security in its various forms can be considered as one of the most important and most objective needs and demands of the European people. Therefore, bilateral concern on this issue on both sides can be considered as one of the important components and dimensions which can help to facilitate cooperation between Iran and the European states. Today, terrorism, radical fundamentalism in the form of Salafism, illicit drugs, illegal immigration, as well as regional stability and security and similar issues can have a major impact on relations between Iran and Europe. Such challenging threats can be taken as important common grounds for the promotion of cooperation between the two sides.

If the Iranian government proved capable of adopting a clear-cut strategy vis-à-vis the European Union on the basis of realistic viewpoints and through recognition of Europe’s variable capacities and capabilities, it would be able to open up more room for cooperation with the EU and make the most of the capacities embedded in relations with Europe. We must conduct an expert study on the track records of 30 years of relations between Iran and the European Union, especially during the past two decades. In doing so, we would be able to recognize the fortes and weaknesses of the European Republic’s foreign policy and also come up with a new model for the interaction in bilateral relations with the 27-member EU bloc. At the same time, Iran will be able to protect its rights and start different and purposive talks with the EU which would reach a decisive conclusion. Regulation of relations with the European Union can be one of the major goals of Iran's foreign policy.

Low level of trust in bilateral relations has led to the present tough situation between EU and the United States, on the one hand, and Iran, on the other hand. This wall of distrust should be broken down. Building confidence should be one of the most important topics in any possible negotiations between Iran and the West, especially with the European Union. Both sides should show their interest in building confidence and try to put the highest emphasis on the common grounds in favor of leaving out divisive issues. Without a doubt, it would be much easier to achieve understanding in an atmosphere of mutual trust. In such an atmosphere of positivity and mutual respect, some problems will be automatically solved. The two sides should try to achieve this high level of understanding and confidence-building because it will certainly benefit them both.

The European Union is trying to introduce itself as a first-rank political player both at global and regional levels in parallel to other power poles, especially the United States, and is trying to find allies among influential regional states to secure its foothold in the Middle East. Therefore, it would be possible through subtleness and by means of negotiations and diplomacy to engage in talks with the EU in order to ensure Iran's national interests and, at the same time, create a counterbalance to regional influence of the United States. It is important for Iran to bank on friendly relations with the European Union and its members in order to increase its own regional clout. This will not only ensure Iran's regional interests, but also benefit major European countries and the United States, thus, brining a period of overall peace and stability to the entire region.

Key Words: Confidence-Building, Iran, EU, Nuclear Activities, Sanctions, pPositivity and Mutual Respect, Khaloozadeh

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