New Sanctions and Outlook of Iran-EU Relations

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Behzad Khoshandam
PhD Student in International Relations

Active ImageRelations between Iran and the European Union (EU) have followed a sinusoidal course of “continuation and change” in the past 30 years as a result of the establishment of multilateral institutions in Europe.

Before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran enjoyed good cordial relations with the European Community (EC). Following the revolution, Iran’s relations with EC was temporarily interrupted. During eight years of war with Iraq (1980-1988) Iran’s relations with Europe were characterized with marked stagnation. Initiation of critical dialogues in 1992 followed by constructive dialogue in 1997 was a major hallmark in Iran-EU relations. Iran, however, has failed in working out a trade cooperation agreement (TCA) with Europe as a result of the nuclear faceoff between the two sides from 2003 which has led to relative deadlock in bilateral relations.

Recent unilateral sanctions imposed on Iran by the Council of the European Union on July 26, 2010, have further dismissed hopes in more profound interactions on both sides. Under present circumstances, there is little hope in any improvement of relations and that hope hinges on certain developments both in Iran and the European Union.

Measures like adoption of unilateral sanctions by the EU against Iran will not be of considerable “efficiency” and “productivity” for EU to achieve its international goals. Regional security as well as a “reliable” and “developed” neighborhood in the Middle East are major goals pursued by EU’s  Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) which will help realization of “effective multilateralism” in Europe’s international interplays.

In fact, due to its multifaceted nature, Iran’s nuclear issue transcends the limits of a simple crisis in international relations. EU’s “crisis management” capacities, its “developmental” attitude and frequent emphasis by EU’s representatives on Iran’s “inalienable right” to peaceful nuclear technology are powerful grounds which can help these important international players to mend fences.

EU’s move toward positive and tension-free interactions with Iran will be a major stride in adopting a consolidated, coherent, and just approach by EU to international interactions. Such an approach will also help the European Union to balance transatlantic relations and attune them to its regional and global goals.

Iran, on the other hand, has been trying in the past few years to pursue its foreign policy goals with regard to EU through independent interplays with individual members of the Union, especially members of the European troika (EU3) because it has lost faith in “institutional,” “structural,” and  “legal” capacities of the EU as a whole.

The current pessimism on the part of the Iranian elite toward EU’s “goals” and “activities” does not represent a correct picture of EU’s actual and potential status in international system because the Union is currently a major power in international “economic,” “trade” and “diplomatic” interactions.

Further restriction of political, economic, security and cultural relations with the European Union is in favor of no regional power, including Iran.

Iran and the European Union are major players in the existing international security and political system and challenging bilateral interactions will not be beneficial to economic, trade, energy, political, cultural and diplomatic interests of either side.

Modification of political positions of both players will change many pessimistic scenarios regarding future security arrangements both inside the EU and in the Middle East.

Multilateral diplomacy and win-win situation will be more favorable option both for Iran and EU, compared to long-term sanctions policy, and will help them more easily to overcome the existing hurdles on the way of further expansion of bilateral relations.