Iran-EU Relations: Time for Restoring Negotiations

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Kayhan Barzegar
Director, The Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies

The political developments in the Arab world, as well as the United States’ increased political pressures on Iran necessitate Iran and the European Union expand relations. At present, increased Iran-EU relations especially on the regional issues would benefit both sides’ interests.

In this regard, the EU will benefit for three reasons. First, is the issue of the Arab Spring and the future outlook of regional power equations. Although the EU has played an active part in the current regional crises, in one case through direct military intervention in Libya, it should realize that Middle Eastern issues are ideological, complicated, and hard to be easily solved.

The wars in Libya and Yemen have already culminated in civil wars. The crises in Syria and Bahrain are worsening while tensions in Egypt continue. All these crises are brewing and simmering just close to the geographical borders of the EU and are of grave concern to European countries.

Despite the fast pace, immensity, and sweeping nature of the developments in the region, Iran has proven to be a stable country with a strong central power giving it the advantage of influencing the region’s politics in different ways.

Iran’s position on the developments in Syria, its political influence in Bahrain, and the prospects of an Iran-Egypt rapprochement, are major factors demonstrating that Iran would play a decisive role in the region’s future power equations and that the EU needs to expand relations with Iran.

Second, is the issue of sanctions against Iran. Although the EU has taken sides with the U.S. on imposing coercive sanctions against Iran, culminating in the adoption of Resolution 1929, it seems that it is slowly reaching the conclusion that pursuing the same policy as the U.S. in this regard will not necessarily preserve the EU’s interests and can perhaps even undermine Europe’s stance on a number of regional issues.

Here the sole issue at stake is not the EU economic interests or trade losses. It is rather the current increased distrust and tension between Iran and the West occurred when the sanctions were imposed. Such continued subservience to US approach is challenging Europe’s Middle Eastern policies.

Third, are the nuclear negotiations. Here again the EU has taken sides with the United States in the vain hope that the “sanctions for negotiation” policy would change Iran’s nuclear policy. But it appears that following the U.S. policy neither serves the EU's interests nor initiated changes in Iran’s nuclear policy.

The Americans take a black and white and ideological approach to Iran’s nuclear issue stressing on halting uranium enrichment as a precondition. The U.S. stance on major strategic issues arises from its preoccupation with defending the status quo and its pre-eminent position in the international community. It is therefore very hard to accept opposing forces namely Iran as a regional power.

In contrast, the EU follows an accommodative and interactive win-win approach towards Iran, and has thus far avoided sidelining all diplomatic channels. It also seeks to find solutions and increased interaction with regional countries. Iran, as a regional power, can play a crucial role in settling the current regional crises.

Iran is one of the powerful states in the Middle East where all political forces will, despite their divergent political views, ultimately stand up to foreign intervention insisting on preserving Iran’s national interests. As such, it would not be to the EU’s benefit to play with Iran’s domestic politics because it will both confuse the EU and the political forces within Iran regarding the distinct potentials of Iran’s domestic politics. This will subsequently damage the EU’s interests in Iran and the region.

With U.S. comprehensive political pressures on the increase, Tehran should also be more accommodative regarding the EU’s role as an interlocutor in the nuclear negotiations. Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has already initiated an active diplomatic approach by visiting some European countries.

Although the government asserts that sanctions have no meaningful effects, in reality they do. But the fact of the matter is that sanctions are unlikely to change Iran’s nuclear policy. The country has already paid a high political and economic price for the progress it has made thus far and is unlikely to back down at this stage.

Meanwhile, Iran has two major parliamentary and presidential elections in the near future and it is very likely that focusing on the advancement of Iran’s nuclear activities, as a unifying national and strategic issue, will be amongst the main points of discussion among the prospective candidates.

Iran’s active diplomacy should pave the way for further mutual understanding with the EU and help it to understand the realities of Iran’s domestic politics regarding the country’s nuclear activities. Iran should show that none of the solutions and packages presented by the EU regarding the nuclear issue were in line with Iran’s domestic demands and political realities.

With Iran resisting the sanctions regime, the Americans seemed to need a more provocative and compelling motivation to satisfy the public and world to deem Iran a threat to international security. By raising the issue of Iran’s secret deal with Al Qaeda operatives and that Iran allowed terrorist figures to cross Iran’s soil providing them funds in order to target Western interests, the U.S. is trying to make the international community more sensitive and fearful of Iran’s nuclear program and its implications for regional and world security.

Under these circumstances, Iran should follow an active diplomacy to increase its interaction with moderate views within the EU, and keep the doors open to cooperation. Although the EU position on Iran’s nuclear program is closed to the U.S., its approach toward the Arab Spring and many other regional issues i.e., in Afghanistan is quite different from that of the U.S., mostly due to the existing structural and traditional differences in Trans-Atlantic relations.

While, the United States has closed all possible channels through imposing political pressures and sanctions, interaction with the EU will be in line with Iran’s national security and interests. Iran should create a suitable atmosphere for the EU to play its part in the nuclear negotiations. Iran’s active role in dealing with all-out nuclear disarmament can benefit the EU position on a Middle East free of nuclear weapons and WMD. Finally and given the Arab world developments, both sides can cooperate through a constructive approach to solve regional problems.

Source: Mehrnews Agency
Translated By: Iran Review

More By Kayhan Barzegar:

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*Iran's Interests and Values and the "Arab Spring":

*The U.S. and Iran's Nuclear Consensus:

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