The Arab Spring and the Winter of Iran-EU Relations

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Behzad Khoshandam
PhD Candidate in International Relations

Sanctions passed by the European Union foreign ministers in late January 2012 against Iran’s oil, gas, and petrochemical industries should be regarded as a bitter and painful decision in the futurology of Iran-EU relations. EU attempt to boycott purchase of oil imports from the Islamic Republic is in fact a new beginning in the winter of Iranian-European relations, which has taken place in the exciting context of the Arab Spring. While the euro zone is facing a grave economic crisis, which has been challenging the identity and efficacy of this regional institution, explaining the motives behind the adoption of these sanctions and their effect upon the future interests and actions of the European Union in the international system is of substantial importance.

To understand the issue and explain the reasons behind it, one should first pay special attention to the nature and scale of EU’s international interactions and transatlantic relations as well as the type of its reaction to the Arab Spring developments. All the existing evidence indicate that the EU reaction to the Arab Spring revolutions over the past year has been a passive one, failing to meet the international and regional expectations of the bloc as representing a certain identity and model of governance.

In this atmosphere and with regard to the critical problems in the international relations of the European countries over the past year, it seems that the EU has strived, by taking radical decisions against Iran, to sacrifice the Islamic Republic or use it as a bargaining chip in its strategic interactions and confrontations with other international actors, including the United States, thus easing the domestic and foreign criticisms of its actions on the international arena in the wake of the Arab Spring. In fact, it can be argued that the EU allegiance to the US-hatched models of action and scenarios against Iran – based on the doctrine of strategic complementarity – poses a serious danger to the future identity of both actors – Iran and the European Union.

The history of Iran’s relations with important international actors, including the EU, suggests that adopting sanctions - however severe they are - is not a reliable course of action to change the regional and international behaviour of this key player. The results of tortuous relations and negotiations between the Islamic Republic and the European Union during the past few decades under the names of Critical Dialogues (1990-1997), Constructive Dialogues (1997-2003), and Nuclear Dialogues (2003-2010) prove the claim. While the general ambience of relations between these two key international actors is becoming increasingly gloomy over time, all the existing diplomatic and political tools and mechanisms as well as mediation capacities should be utilized to reconsider and improve them in the future. In this respect, arranging for a new round of bilateral negotiations is one of the available options. This means that while a suspicious grouping on the international scene is trying to place Iran-EU relations along the trends of international security, a paradigm shift in their bilateral ties and the opening up of a new opportunity for negotiations under the name, say, of “Deterrence Dialogues” can serve as a solution to some of the existing dilemmas between the two actors.

The range and extent of these talks at the official levels of Iran and EU can be examined and decided upon. The nature and goal of initiating a new round of negotiations between the two sides can include efforts to deter exacerbation and finally unmanageability of security circumstances and arrangements in the crisis-stricken regions in the Middle East and European Union and to stop taking such measures as economic sanctions. Once launched, the talks can undoubtedly be a fundamental step towards scrapping the bells of violence and drums of war against Iran that are beaten in some European and American circles. They can also prepare the ground to prevent the marginalization or erosion of European identity – which is characterized by strong reaction against such actions as the use of force against Iraq in 2003. Furthermore, the possible creation of an opportunity to hold new talks will hearten the advocates of peace and improved relations between Iran and the European Union and boost their hope for a constructive relationship based on mutual respect between the two sides in the future.

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