Europe Reaches Out to Iran

September 8, 2015

After the final nuclear deal was announced on July 14, European officials began reaching out to Iran with several high-profile phone calls and visits. The following is a rundown of European outreach since the deal.

Austria
 
Austrian President Heinz Fischer visited Tehran from September 7 to 9, accompanied by Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, and Economy Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner. Fischer said that he expected bilateral trade between Austria and Iran to reach $335 million in 2015.
 
Fischer met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani during his visit. Khamenei praised Austria for not complying with "the United States' hostile policies towards Iran."
 
Fischer had spoken to Rouhani by phone on July 15, following the announcement of the final nuclear deal. Rouhani said the deal “will lay the groundwork for the expansion of ties between Tehran and Vienna.”
 
 

Spain

Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo met with Iranian officials in Tehran from September 7 to 9. He was accompanied by Industry, Energy and Tourism Minister Jose Manuel Soria, Public Works and Transport Minister Ana Maria Pastor Julian, and a delegation of business officials.

Following a meeting with Soria, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said the two countries discussed the possibility of exporting crude oil and natural gas to Spain. Additionally, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with Garcia-Margallo, and said that Iran and Spain "agreed to negotiate about human rights and refugee issues.”

 

United Kingdom

On August 23, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond traveled to Tehran to reopen the British Embassy, which had been closed since 2011. The Iranian embassy in London was reopened the same day. In a joint press conference with Hammond, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Iran and Britain had “entered a new phase of relations based on mutual respect.”
 
Hammond was the first British Foreign Secretary to visit Iran in 12 years. He met with Rouhani, Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani, and other officials during his visit. Hammond was accompanied by a group of British business leaders hoping to reestablish ties in Iran.
 
 
British Prime Minister David Cameron had called Rouhani to congratulate him on the nuclear deal on July 16. "You (President Rouhani) had a very constructive role in striking this final deal," he said. During the conversation, Rouhani added that “I think there exists the necessary potential to rebuild relations between Iran and Britain.”
 
The British government also relaxed its travel warnings for Iran shortly after the deal was announced. “The risk to British nationals has changed, in part due to decreasing hostility under President Rouhani's Government,” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on July 25.
 

European Union

 
On July 28, E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini arrived in Tehran for a one-day visit with senior Iranian officials. She was accompanied by deputy E.U. foreign policy chief Helga Schmid. Mogherini said the nuclear deal “has the capacity to pave the ground for wider cooperation between Iran and the West.”
 
After meeting with Mogherini, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Iran and the European Union had agreed to hold talks “over different issues, including energy cooperation…human rights, confronting terrorism, and regional issues.”
 
 
Mogherini’s visit coincided with her op-ed in The Guardian, in which she argued that cooperation between Iran and the West could help defeat ISIS. The following is an excerpt.
 
“The Vienna deal tells us that we all have much to earn if we choose cooperation over confrontation. Making the most out of this opportunity is entirely up to us. But nothing good will happen if we do not work hard for it. We Europeans have a long tradition of cultural and economic relationship with Iran. Before sanctions began in 2005, cooperation between our parts of the world spanned many areas, from energy to trade. But our shared interests go well beyond the economy.
 
“Last week Europe’s foreign ministers tasked me with exploring “ways in which the EU could actively promote a more cooperative regional framework” in the wake of the Vienna deal. Isis (also known as Da’esh) is spreading its vicious and apocalyptic ideology in the Middle East and beyond. There is nothing more worrisome to Isis than cooperation between “the west” and the Muslim world, for it defies the narrative of a clash of civilisations the group is trying to revive. An alliance of civilisations can be our most powerful weapon in the fight against terror.”
—July 28, 2015, in an op-ed published by The Guardian
 
France
 
On July 23, French President Francois Hollande and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani discussed increasing bilateral cooperation in a phone conversation. A statement released by Hollande’s office “expressed the wish for Iran to contribute positively to the resolution of crises in the Middle East.” Hollande also emphasized increasing tourism between the two countries, since it "can play a major role in advancement of cooperation between Iran and France."
 
 
French foreign minister Laurent Fabius visited Tehran on July 29, meeting with Zarif, Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh, and other senior officials. He also extended an invitation for President Hassan Rouhani to visit President Hollande in France in November. "Things will, we hope, be able to change," Fabius said during his visit.
 
 
Germany
 
On July 20, German vice chancellor and economics minister Sigmar Gabriel arrived in Iran for a three-day visit, hoping to resume “economic contacts with Iran, which were traditionally good.” He was the first high-ranking Western official to visit Iran since the final nuclear deal was announced on July 14.
 
Gabriel also emphasized the need to cooperate with Iran on issues like human rights and its relationship with Israel. "You can't have a good economic relationship with Germany in the long-term if we don't discuss such issues too and try to move them along,” he said.
 
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier announced on August 24 that he planned to visit Iran in October.

 

 

Italy
 
On August 4, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni and Economic Development Minister Federica Guidi arrived in Iran for a two-day visit, accompanied by Italian businessmen and economic activists. They met with Minister of Industry, Mines, and Trade Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh and other officials. Italy, which used to be one of Iran’s major trade partners, has been trying to revive economic ties with Iran. During the visit, investment back Mediobanca, Italy’s development ministry, and export credit agency SACE signed a memorandum of understanding “to facilitate future economic and commercial relations between the two countries.”
 
 
Switzerland
 
Swiss Deputy Foreign Minister Yves Rossier arrived in Tehran on July 21 for a four-day trip to meet with Iranian officials, including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, and Rouhani’s chief of staff Mohammad Nahavandian. “Iran welcomes the expansion of economic and banking relations with Switzerland,” Nahavandian said.
 
On August 12, Switzerland became the first nation to lift sanctions on Iran after the nuclear deal was announced.
 
Serbia
 
Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic arrived in Tehran on August 3 for a three-day visit. Dacic held a series of meetings with senior Iranian officials and explored opportunities for greater economic cooperation with Iran. Zarif welcomed a proposal by Dacic to hold the 14th Iran-Serbia Joint Economic Committee, adding that an Iranian delegation would visit Belgrade in the future.