The Role of the EU in Iran Nuclear Negotiations

Friday, September 12, 2014

EU Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Conference 2014

More than 250 experts have gathered in Brussels on 4-5 September 2014 to discuss the spread of nuclear and other dangerous weapons. Below you can find the complete transcript of Dr. Abbas Maleki, Associate Professor of Energy Policy, Department of Energy Engineering, Sharif University of Technology, Iran in this conference:

Abbas Maleki:

Thank you Mr Chairman. And many thanks to the four prestigious European think‑tanks which made the EU Non‑Proliferation Consortium.

I am following Dr. Kimball’s discussion and also the topic of this session which is: what is the role of the European Union in Iran’s nuclear choice. I want to raise a few questions about this topic, and then we will discuss more in questions and answers.

The important questions within Iran
The first question would be regarding Iran’s recently voiced optimism about the final nuclear deal before 24 November. The question is: what do the Iranian decision makers think about Joint Plan of Action and the final deal? What would be the best for them?

The second question would be: should it be possible to do comparisons among official proposals which have been produced between 2001 and today. In some of them it is really interesting that the Iranian side had some changes in its position and its behaviour.

The third question would be: are there differences between US positions, behaviour and proposed scenarios to the European Union or not? I think yes. US recently added penalties. Last week they again added penalties against a few different companies and a few individuals in Iran. This is really important for Iranian decision makers.

What can we propose for the EU to do? This is the main point which I want to talk about. Another question is: what should Iran do? Finally, what is the impact of Iran’s nuclear file to the Middle East and West Asia?

The rationale of Iran’s civil nuclear programme
Regarding the first question, I think Iran’s civil nuclear programme has a clear economic rationale. Iran has a need to generate more revenues from the sale of fossil fuels.

Secondly, I think Iran’s insistence on controlling its own enrichment process is the logical consequence of its diversification and energy security policy. However, it does have the additional aim of establishing technical independence. This goal is itself fully within the limits of nuclear non‑proliferation, or NPT.

Third, as made clear in the assessment by US intelligence services and during US/Russia track-2 assessment in the past, Iran’s decision to pursue a military nuclear programme is ambiguous.

Fourth, Iran’s leadership rejects the double standards on nuclear violence.

Differences in US and EU policy on Iran
This is what Iran believes, politically, on these issues in this case. However, what is the case of differences between the US and the EU? I think the US thinks it is better to do detente with the Islamic Republic of Iran because of the case of the pivot [to Asia], the rising of the Sunni hardliners and terrorist in the Islamic world and many other issues. However, at the same time, the United States does not want to withdraw sanctions which it has imposed by decree of Mr President or by Congress.

Iranian/European relations
Iran’s relations with the European Union are totally different. Iran had relations with European Union and European countries from 400 years ago. However, recently, after Iranian Islamic Revolution, Iran had first a critical dialogue with the European Union. It then had a constructive dialogue during the rule of Mr Khatami, 1997–2005. Then the European Union and Iran agreed to sign a TCA, a trade and co‑operation agreement. Iran was also going to be part of the Energy Charter.

Suddenly, all of these issues have changed, especially during the rule of Mr Ahmadinejad. Iran believes the best way for the Iranian side would be immediate relief from European Union sanctions, because the European Union is more concentrated on imposing sanction or relieving them than the United States Congress, the executive administration or something like that.

Iran’s desire for unfreezing of assets
Iran is eager to have access to frozen assets, especially in Europe. Given Europe’s comparative institutional freedom to pass and implement decisions, it should consider creative options for providing an economic package to Tehran, which many foreign ministers were talking about with Iranian decision‑makers. I think the major issue is lifting the oil embargo, permitting European oil companies to come to Iran. This is very important for the Iranian side.

Current diplomatic relations between Iran and Europe
During these days, from last year and after the election of President Rouhani, Lady Ashton had many visits from Tehran. She discussed issues with the Iranian President, Minister Zarif and also with some other people that are on the right hand... I am talking about principalists like Dr Velayati, who is the advisor of the Iranian leader and so on.

Foreign Ministers of Italy, Austria, Belgium, Greece, Latvia and parliamentary delegations from Poland, Spain, Slovakia and Sweden and foreign ministers had a meeting with the Iranian Foreign Minister in Tehran. Furthermore, British, German and French parliamentary delegations have been welcomed by Tehran.

Iran is looking to the European Union on international sanctions
These are issues on which Iran is looking to the European Union. They are especially looking to the European Union on this case: when and how the United Nations sanctions would be removed. This is very important in Iran because the American side do not want to discuss this case during the meetings. Resistance against the secondary effect of the United States sanctions to European countries is also very important in this case, because many, many banks and companies received penalties from the United States. However, nobody knows what the legal basis of these issues is.

There are some regulations regarding the case of the US court decision imposing penalties on some Iranian assets in the United States. These assets were some embassies, properties and things like that. The penalties were imposed because, for example, of killing one lady, or one girl, in Tel Aviv and other issues like that.

Anyhow, this is the case that Iran is going to talk with the European Union. They are complaining about the case of the WTO; Iran believed in 2006 Iran was going to go to the WTO. That was part of the European Union commitment to Tehran.

What Iran should do
Anyway, I want to tell you about what Iran should do. This is also very important. I think Iran should be patient. This is the most important part of the politics in the Middle East. Because when you are facing different pressures from the various lobbies in the United States, the European Union and especially from non‑governmental actors like UANI, United Against Nuclear Iran, or something like that, the best way is to be patient and resume the talks as Iran’s leaders, Foreign Minister and Mr President reiterate.

We are working with the EU and European countries at the same time, when you are in Tehran there is a body as European Union. However, there are many countries, 28 countries, which have different views, especially in the case of economic, financial and energy ties with Iran. Therefore, Iran now prefers to also have bilateral relations with European countries.

Iranian domestic issues

The Iranian right wing
The case of domestic issues is very important in Iran. Despite all the other issues, we are now talking about the case that President Rouhani is going to handle the negotiations and talks. I think we must look at the inside of Iran more properly. The other part, the right, or principalist, or those some people are talking of here as the hardliners are not very weak now. Recently, during this week, they gained some new positions. One of them which is very important is the case of the Experts Assembly, of which some people believe former President Rafsanjani will be the head. In the meeting which finished they agreed to appoint Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani, despite his situation. He is in hospital. There are also other issues.

The City Council of Tehran
The second issue which is very important is the City Council in Tehran. The Chairman of City Council was Mr Masjed‑Jamei, who was Minister of Guidance during the rule of Mr Khatami. However, yesterday, strangely, they held a new vote and elected Mr Chamran who is in the principalist part of the political arena in Iran. He became the Chairman of the City Council, and his deputy, Mr Talaie, is also one of the principalists.

These are many issues that show that without compromise and talking with the right‑wing in Iran we cannot do anything.

Iranian uranium enrichment capacity
The last point I want to give is about the case of the 190,000 SWU which Dr Kimball also mentioned. I think it is an opportunity for the European Union and the United States in P5+1 talks. In the past, Iranians insisted on the amount of the centrifuges. For example, one state insisted on 100,000 centrifuges. Another said 60,000. Now they are talking about 190,000 SWU, or separative work units, it means that this is a signal from Tehran. They want to say the actual number of centrifuges are not so important as the case of the outcome of the centrifuges. The Iranian leader clearly said, ‘After five years we want to reach to 190,000 SWU output of the machines.’ It shows that maybe it would be 190,000 centrifuges. Maybe it would be 20,000 centrifuges. It is related the case of technology. I think it is an opportunity to talk about this case more with Tehran.

The case of the technical issues is also important. The most important technical issue for Iran in the nuclear file is human resources. As I am teaching in Sharif University of Technology, there are many engineers in energy policy, energy engineering and others. Some of them are working in nuclear technology. It is very important for Iran to have access to work with different parts of the nuclear technology in pilot and also in the case of industry.

Thank you very much.

Source: The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)

More By Abbas Maleki:

*Islamic Caliphate and Changing Borders in Middle East:

*U.S.-Iran Misperceptions A Dialogue:

*Seven Points of Importance in the Wake of Geneva Nuclear Deal:

*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.

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