Europe Reaches Out to Iran

April 18, 2016

Since the final nuclear deal was announced on July 14, 2015, at least a dozen European nations have reached out to Iran with high-profile phone calls and visits. "Expansion of relations with E.U. members is among Tehran's main policies," Rouhani said before his visit to Europe in January 2016. Around half of the 140 economic delegations that visited Iran between March and December 2015 were from European countries. The following is a rundown of European outreach to Iran since the deal.

United Kingdom
 
On February 4, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrived in London for a conference to raise money for humanitarian aid in Syria. He met with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and other officials on the sidelines of the conference. It was the first visit to the United Kingdom by an Iranian foreign minister in 12 years.
 
"Iran and Britain have had traditionally good commercial and economic relations and I think those can resume," Zarif said in an address at Chatham House. "We need to work together on moving the political relations forward."
 
The United Kingdom has taken steps to improve ties with Iran since the nuclear deal was signed. "You (President Rouhani) had a very constructive role in striking this final deal," British Prime Minister David Cameron said on July 16, 2015. 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.
 
 
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.
 
 
On Jan. 19, 2016, David Cameron congratulated Rouhani on the implementation of the nuclear deal during a phone call. The two leaders also discussed expanding trade ties, the conflict in Syria, and the four dual British-Iranian nationals held in Iran.
 
Italy
 
Rouhani traveled to Italy on Jan. 25, 2016, after accepting an invitation from Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. During his visit, Rouhani met with Renzi, President Sergio Mattarella, and a group of 500 Italian businessmen. Iran and Italy reportedly signed around $18.4 billion in deals for cooperation in energy, infrastructure, shipbuilding, and mining.
 
 
Rouhani said during his visit that Iran was "more eager to have Italians before any other European nations to start a constructive interaction with their Iranian partners in the economic fields." During his meetings, Rouhani invited Mattarella and Renzi to visit Iran.
 
 
Previously, on Aug. 4, 2015, Gentiloni and Economic Development Minister Federica Guidi traveled to 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 August 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.”
 
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, 2015, meeting with Zarif, Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh, and other senior officials. It was the first visit to Iran by a French foreign minister in 12 years. 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. In late September, a French delegation with representatives from more than 100 companies visited Tehran and opened a trade office.
 
 
Rouhani traveled to France on Jan. 27, 2016 for meetings with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, President Francois Hollande, and a group of French business leaders. On January 28, French and Iranian officials signed 20 agreements for economic, political, and cultural cooperation. French automaker Peugeot announced it had reached a deal with Iran Khodro worth $436 million to manufacture 200,000 cars per year in Iran. Energy company Total also reportedly signed a deal to buy up to 200,000 barrels of Iranian crude oil per day. And Airbus finalized a deal to deliver more than 100 commercial jets to Iran.
 
Rouhani was the first Iranian president to visit to France since 1999. Despite taking a tough stance during the nuclear negotiations, France was among the first European countries to seek improved ties with Iran after the nuclear deal was signed in July 2015. Rouhani’s visit, however, prompted protests from French human rights groups against executions in Iran.
 
European Union
 
On November 7, European Parliament chief Martin Schulz met with officials in Tehran, at the invitation of the Iranian parliament. It was the first time a head of the European Parliament had visited Iran. "The Islamic Republic of Iran is an element of stability in a region full of instability," Schulz said during the visit.
 
 
Previously, on July 28, E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini had traveled 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
 
Belgium
 
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders and an economic delegation visited Tehran on November 9, meeting with President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. The officials discussed expanding economic and political ties. During the visit, Rouhani said that Iran "can become a center for organizing and expanding economic relations between Belgium, the European Union, and the whole region."
 
 
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.”

 

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 visited Tehran in October 2015 to discuss trade ties and attempt to de-escalate the growing tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. He traveled to Iran again on Feb. 2, 2016 for meetings with President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani.

 

 

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.
 
 
Poland
 
On October 10-11, Polish Senate Speaker Bogdan Borusewicz visited Tehran, where he met with President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Chairman of the Expediency Council Akbar Hashemni Rafsanjani, and other officials. Iran and Poland "can further contribute to regional and international security through mutual cooperation," Borusewicz said during the visit. And Rouhani said that "Iran sees no obstacles in the way of expanding relations and cooperation with Poland."
 

The Netherlands

Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders met with Rouhani, Zarif, and other officials in Tehran on September 21 and 22. It was the first time in 14 years that a Dutch foreign minister had visited Iran. The officials discussed expanding political and economic ties, and Koenders announced that at least three other Dutch ministers planned to visit Iran in the near future.