Iran, EU Open New Chapter in Bilateral Cooperation

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Behzad Ahmadi Lafuraki

A recent visit to Iran by Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, is considered a turning point in Iran's relations with the European Union (EU), which as put by Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, will raise the comprehensive talks to high-level talks between Iran and the EU. After Iran and the P5+1 group of countries clinched the recent nuclear agreement in Vienna on July 14, Mogherini noted that the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), will open a new chapter in international relations. She added that her visit to Tehran was a sign that the EU is trying to make the most of the new era of relations with Iran. However, what is the context that has led to this new era of relations, and has that context actually led to more proximity between Iran and the EU?

Developments in international order and its fluidity through all these years have led to rapid shifts of power at global level, while the international order has been influenced by globalization and its consequences. The rise of the emerging powers, fragility of the nation-state structure, increasing importance of nongovernmental and subnational actors in setting direction of developments, waning importance of national borders, increasing environmental issues as well as the intermingled nature of various human crises, have made management of global developments difficult for a hegemonic actor like the United States, thus making the active role played by other actors, such as the EU, inevitable. Under these conditions, the alignment of the EU with the United States’ policies is no more enough to meet Washington’s needs. Therefore, as a result of the United States’ selective foreign policy and the shift in Washington’s foreign policy focus to East Asia, the EU has been forced to directly deal with such crises as the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, as well as domestic conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. The bottom line is that the status quo is giving way and the EU and its important members that have made the most of the existing order, which was established following the World War II, should try to preserve it.

The effort made to preserve the status quo is the common denominator between Iran and the EU. Of course, in line with its ideological approach, Iran objects to certain aspects of the existing situation, but in practice, every step it has taken so far has been geared toward preserving this situation. Supporting the government in Syria and preventing demolition of the nation-state structure in that country; supporting the territorial integrity of Iraq and helping to strengthen the central government there while preventing erasure of its borders; serious and effective fight against Salafist terrorism and its most serious manifestation, that is, the Islamic State; and also Iran's opposition to Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen in line with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, were all major steps taken by Tehran to preserve the status quo in the Middle East, and subsequently in the world.

Iran's policy in this regard will seem even more important taking into account that security in this region will lead to the establishment of security across the international system. Meanwhile, regionalization of security in a globalized world, has caused the crisis in Ukraine to be connected to the crisis in the Middle East, or the resolution of Iran's nuclear case to influence security of Poland as it determines the future course of the US plan to deploy a missile defense shield in that country. In addition, a regionalism, which puts increasing emphasis on the role of regional actors, focuses on interactions between those actors and regions around them because such interactions affect the interests of all countries as these regions are interconnected. Therefore, while developments in the Middle East were not important to European countries in the past due to geographical distance between the two regions, now, even developments in Yemen are important to European countries and they cannot remain indifferent to them.

It is in view of this new form of regionalism that the JCPOA is seen by Mogherini as harbinger of a new chapter in international relations, which can have many benefits for the Middle East region and its adjacent neighbor, Europe. From the viewpoint of the EU, the JCPOA is a means of saving Europe’s face, which has been already marred due to the euro crisis and the crisis in Ukraine. For the EU, the JCPOA means more emphasis on the power for which the EU is famous, that is, the soft power, while giving more credit to diplomacy for the resolution of such crisis as the one in Ukraine. For the EU, the JCPOA means bringing to life the falling regime of nonproliferation and the pursuit of zero-nuclear policy in the world.

In conclusion, the new context of the JCPOA has caused Iran's and EU’s interests to overlap within framework of regionalism. In other words, although Iran is actually pursuing its own national interests through preservation of the status quo and the nuclear deal, the overlap between Iran's measures and those measures that meet the European Union’s interests has put both sides at a favorable place in their history. The visit by Federica Mogherini, which was followed by cascades of visits paid to Tehran by various political and economic European delegations, confirms the existence of common interests between the two sides and the context of the new agreement will help to expand Iran's relations with the European Union more than any time before.

*Behzad Ahmadi Lafuraki is the director of international relations at Tehran International Studies & Research Institute and analyst of EU and NATO affairs.

Key Words: Iran, EU, New Chapter, Bilateral Cooperation, Federica Mogherini, Mohammad Javad Zarif, International Order, US, Iran's Nuclear Case, Security, Middle East, Regionalism, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Ahmadi Lafuraki

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*Photo Credit: ISNA