Why the European Union Must Support the Nuclear Deal with Iran?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


Aziz Hatamzadeh
Researcher at Governance and Policy Think Tank

Since the conclusion of the nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries, the European states have consistently supported it either individually or within framework of the European Union and have urged all parties to the deal to remain committed to it. They have so far stood against the obstructionist measures taken by the administration of US President Donald Trump and have tried to curtail his efforts to repeal the nuclear deal. However, after Trump refused to certify Iran's compliance with the nuclear deal and even made continued compliance of the United States with the nuclear agreement conditional on certain amends in it, it seems that the European states will find themselves under mounting pressure in this regard. The question is why the European countries must resist pressure from the Trump administration and continue to support the nuclear deal, which is known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The present paper argues that there are many reasons why the European Union must support the JCPOA and this issue is directly tied to interests of its member states. First of all, abrogation of the nuclear deal in this way by Trump will challenge the European countries’ desirable model of international order. Secondly, it will cast serious doubt on the position, credit and efficiency of the European Union as a major actor within the international system. And most importantly, repealing the JCPOA will face the Union’s relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran with many challenges and doubts. Let’s not forget that following conclusion of the JCPOA, restoration of relations between Europe and the Islamic Republic started rapidly and having good ties with Iran has numerous economic benefits for the European countries.

Since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the European countries have always been on the side of the United States as its allies in the front that has called for the “continuation of the status quo” at international level. However, their desirable international order has been somehow different from that of the United States. This issue has been appropriately laid out in Robert Kagan’s book, Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order. Europeans seek a world order based on multilateralism, resolution of crises through diplomacy, and strengthening of international institutions and organizations. In fact, establishment of such principles at international level will give the European countries more latitude to play a role at global level and will also meet their interests in the best possible manner. It is for this reason that every time an American administration opposing these principles (including those of George W. Bush and Trump) has been in office at the White House, European countries’ relations with Washington have taken a downturn. On the other hand, the most popular US president in the eyes of Europeans has been the one, who has agreed to these principles and supported them; that is, Barack Obama. The nuclear deal with Iran has been a product of these principles and, in fact, a symbol and index of the world order that is desirable to the European countries. Therefore, repealing this agreement in the way that Trump intends to do will not only challenge the said principles, but will also be taken as moving in a direction, which will finally push the world order toward unilateralism, discredit international organizations and agreements, and show inefficiency of diplomacy and negotiation for the resolution of global crises. All told, this situation would mean distancing from the world order, which is desirable to Europeans.

The second reason why the European countries have to support the JCPOA is about the credit and efficiency of this Union as an “actor” in the international arena and for the management of global crises. Since the 1990s, when the European countries started the process of European convergence, one of the most important aspirations and goals of the European countries has been to have a single voice in foreign policy and play a role as a major actor in international developments. Iran's nuclear case provided an opportunity for Europe to achieve this goal. Since Iran's nuclear issue hit the headlines in 2003, the European Union not only had a single voice in this regard, but was somehow the most important actor playing a role with respect to this dossier. The initiative for launching dialogue and making effort to resolve Iran's nuclear issue was first introduced by the European countries in the form of the EU3 group. Even after that, the European countries played an important and effective role within the framework of the P5+1 group. Europeans even believe that the JCPOA is a European achievement. In fact, over more than two past decades, Europeans have never been as unanimous as they were with regard to Iran's nuclear case. Therefore, nixing the JCPOA will challenge the European countries’ role in this regard and, for example, the European Union will no more be accepted as an influential and creditable actor in other crises like the ongoing one with regard to North Korea and also in other international matters.

The third reason why the European countries must support the JCPOA is about their bilateral relations with Iran and the interests that they have in this regard. Generally speaking, there are two viewpoints about the role and standing of Europe in Iran's foreign policy among the country’s elites and political groups. Some groups believe that Europe has basically no independent role to play separate from the United States and only follows suit with Washington. Therefore, they argue that Iran cannot and must not reckon too much on Europe and should avoid putting much stress on the need to develop relations with the European countries. Iran's former president and many of those who are critics of the present administration can be put in this group. On the opposite, there is also a reformist and moderate spectrum consisting of political groups, which take a positive approach to Europe and believe that under conditions when Iran has no direct relations with the United States, the country can develop its relations with Europe and even count on the European countries as strategic partners. The most important political figure belonging to this spectrum is Mr. Hassan Rouhani, the incumbent president of Iran. Under the present circumstances, domestic critics of the administration believe that when it comes to future of the JCPOA, much hope should not be put in Europe, because Europeans will finally follow suit with the United States. To the extent that Europe remains committed to the JCPOA, the argument offered by moderate figures about the necessity of reducing tensions in the foreign policy and interacting with the European countries will seem more plausible inside the country.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, China, Russia, the European Union, Democrat politicians in the United States and even some Republican figures and members of the Trump administration are well aware that he has no strong and credible argument for the rejection of the JCPOA and, therefore, are opposed to his position in this regard. At the present time, when it comes to defending the JCPOA, Europe does not necessarily have to stand in the face of the United States and choose between Iran and America. Our time is much more different from 2005. The world is no more in conditions that existed following the 9/11 terror attacks and US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. The American society is not unanimous, the international public opinion no more supports America, and Europe, on the other hand, is not shaky and divided anymore. In fact, Europe’s categorical support for the JCPOA, more than anything else, will mean opposition to ambitious temptations of US President Donald Trump and, as a result, Europe will not have to pay a high price for it. At the present time, Europe needs to be independent more than any time before and the world craves for an independent Europe more than any time before.



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