Iran-EU Relations Should Not Be Overshadowed by Sanctions

Monday, March 10, 2014

Will Ashton’s visit lead to thaw in Iran-EU ties?

Interview with Mohammad Farhad Koleini
Senior Analyst of International Strategic Issues

The European Union’s (EU) High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton arrived in Tehran on her first ever visit to the Islamic Republic on Sunday [March 9, 2014] and met with various Iranian officials. She met with the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, took part in a short press conference with Iranian reporters at the Iranian Foreign Ministry, and also met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani, and the former secretary of Supreme National Security Council, Saeed Jalili. Following her predecessor, Javier Solana, Ashton is the second foreign policy chief of the European Union who has visited Tehran during the past six years and this is one of the reasons which have made her Iran trip under the 11th Iranian administration so important. Before Ashton’s visit to Iran, other high-ranking European officials from Italy, Sweden, Belgium, and Spain had visited the Islamic Republic. Ashton’s visit is also very important because she traveled to Iran not only as the representative of the 28 member states of the European Union, but also as the coordinator of the nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers. In the following interview with Mohammad Farhad Koleini, a senior analyst of international strategic issues, the importance of Ashton’s visit to Iran, its impact on the outlook of Iran-EU relations, and the influence of the current developments in Ukraine on Iran-EU ties have been put to discussion. The complete text of the interview follows.

Q: This is Ms. Ashton’s first trip to Tehran. What is your opinion about her role in the new phase of relations between Iran and the European Union?

A: Due to her frequent contacts with various Iranian officials, Ms. Ashton has different experiences in this regard. On the whole, the experiences she currently has with Iran are quite different with what she knew before taking charge as the foreign policy chief of the EU. You are well aware that apart from her personal political tendencies, she has been consistently trying to prioritize the European Union’s considerations within the general political sphere of Britain. There are even speculations in various European circles about her future role in other international organizations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). If I am not mistaken, I think she is also willing to take part in the British elections as a prestigious candidate. Everything, of course, depends on the circumstances and her personal views.

As for her role in the new phase of relations between Iran and the European Union, it is notable that strengthening relations with the Islamic Republic will play an important part in her political track records, and playing this role can greatly promote her standing in view of the existing strategic understanding and considerations. Such a role can be played within framework of the strategic dialogue between the two sides, especially with the purpose of addressing common security concerns of both sides whose final outcome would be better regional stability and high-level relations between the two sides on the basis of Europe’s correct understanding of the strategic depth of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Ashton’s meetings with our country’s officials have conveyed an important message to her. Apart from the fact that she was amazed by the beauty of the “Mirror Hall” of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, her detailed negotiations with our country’s foreign minister were quite remarkable.

Q: As for the regional developments, we have been witnessing a new challenge growing between Russia and the EU over the situation in Ukraine during the past few months. To what extent, do you believe, this issue may influence new relations between Iran and the European Union?

A: The final outcome of this challenge is still a mystery to all involved parties. The European countries have been following a high velocity policy in this regard, which has caused problems for the strategic policy which seeks to improve relations with Europe’s “eastern neighbors.” Russia, on the other hand, is trying to change the West’s game in this region. At present, the energy security of Europe is at stake and the European countries are trying to find new options in this field. Of course, there is still no consensus on this issue within the EU. Continuation of the crisis in Ukraine, especially in the Crimean peninsula, will greatly increase the risk of Balkanization of Ukraine. Before the crisis in Ukraine, we witnessed a sharp reaction from Britain over the situation in Malvinas Islands [which are called Falkland Islands in the UK]. The NATO and the EU also adopted unilateral policies on the issue of the independence of Kosovo. On the other hand, the United States has been following different policies on the issue of Tibet in China. Such instances will strengthen Moscow’s argument over the situation in Crimea. This is why Russia is following a host of options on Ukraine which range from use of force to diplomatic and even legal approaches. The new government of Ukraine, on the other hand, is not ready to withdraw from its positions. The official position taken by Iran so far clearly indicates the country’s concerns. It goes without saying that the involvement of NATO will not be a good answer to Ukraine crisis too. Even some prominent Western politicians such as Mr. [Henry] Kissinger and [Zbignew] Brzezinski, who belong to different political factions in the US politics, have already issued indirect warnings about the possibility of allowing the NATO to play a prominent role in Ukraine developments. Of course, in an interview with the Euronews channel, Mr. Brzezinski said he believes that Russia is not a good chess player. You certainly remember that in his recent meeting with [the British Prime Minister] David Cameron, [the Russian President] Mr. [Vladimir] Putin emphasized that it would be to the benefit of all involved parties that the crisis in Ukraine be solved through a diplomatic solution in order to guarantee the stability of the East European country.

Q: What is your opinion about the new approach taken by Russia to new phase of relations between Iran and the European Union? You were once Iran's ambassador to Armenia at a time that the axis of Iran – Russia – Europe had been formed on the basis of balanced and convergent understanding. Is it possible for a new trilateral policy to come into being in various fields again?

A: Let’s go back in time a little. Russia has been adhering to a powerful discourse in the issue of Syria and is currently more self-confident than any time before. The Russians believe that it is time for the West to retreat, though the West is actually trying to made new advances in the case of Ukraine. There is an important conflict in the EU policy in the sense that the main policy adopted by important European countries is different from other member states of the EU. This issue has been noticed in case of selling European weapons to certain regional countries because the policy adopted by some European countries in this regard is at odds with the general policy of the Union. Selling arms and insisting on new advances [in case of Ukraine] will help extremism to grow. The world needs tranquility and constructive interaction and the choice of incorrect policies will certainly further exacerbate the situation.

As put by Russians, the time is past for the policy of sanctions to bear fruit. The new phase of Iran's relations with the EU should take shape beyond the reach of sanctions or futile negotiations. I don’t want to be unrealistic here, but it is really possible to come up with a win-win policy and even a trilateral win-win policy in certain areas. Expecting absolute trilateral cooperation in all fields is nonsense, but, as I said before, it is quite possible in individualized cases. This would depend on the degree of diplomatic finesse and firm belief in the effectiveness of interaction. History is made up of different opportunities and is sometimes formed on the basis of a collective paradigm. In the field of energy and transit, the three sides can complement one another according to a smart approach and on equal standing. The new phase of cooperation between Iran and Europe will not be against any country. I even think that apart from the Tel Aviv regime, which has taken a negative approach to this issue and is resorting to any means to prevent it, no other country is against Iran-EU détente. Today, as put by Mr. Jalili, Ms. Ashton has come to realize the role of democracy in Iran and has witnessed the progress that Iran has made despite sanctions.

Q: You pointed to Iran's new strategic discourse with Europe. In your opinion, what features and characteristics can this new strategic discourse have?

A: I think the European Union should take balanced, stable and reliable steps away from any propaganda hype. It should regulate its behavior on the basis of rationality and should not become obsessed with unnecessary issues in order to be able to pay due attention to Iran's merits. There is high potential in relations between Iran and the EU. The Islamic Republic of Iran looks to the world on the basis of its own ideological tenets which give the highest priority to the country’s independence as well as its spiritual values and national interests. Iran is also well aware of the importance of this issue for the establishment of security and expansion of relations with the world. There are very important issues which should be taken as basis for the strengthening bilateral relations with Europe, especially in economic fields, on the basis of mutual interests. The Islamic Republic of Iran enjoys a special position in the geopolitical puzzle of the region. Therefore, it is necessary for Europe to come to grips with the reality of Iran's high importance in the region. In the meantime, the importance of both sides in global political equations provides them with a mutual opportunity to take steps for the strengthening of bilateral relations.

Key Words: Ashton’s Iran Visit, Iran-EU Relations, Sanctions, Ukraine, Russia, Iran's New Strategic Discourse, Koleini

Source: Iranian Diplomacy (IRD)
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

More By Mohammad Farhad Koleini:

*How to Facilitate Bargaining in New Geneva Negotiations?:

*West Should Change Tone and Approach to Iran:

*US Should Avoid Sinuslike Behavior in Contacts with Iran:

*Photo Credit: Fars News Agency, Mehr News Agency

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