Iran and the European Union
- Since the early 1990s, relations between the European Union and Iran have correlated with Iran's domestic situation. Relations have grown closer during times of political openings in Tehran and tenser when the regime becomes more repressive.
- To address political, economic and human rights issues, the European Union has preferred to conduct relations with Iran in a dialogue format, instead of through the usual Trade and Cooperation and Political Dialogue Agreements.
- Britain, France and Germany took the diplomatic lead on nuclear negotiations with Iran. They established a framework that kept the door open for indirect and direct negotiations between the United States and Iran.
- After 2005, the nuclear controversy surpassed all strategic issues—energy, Middle East security, trade and even human rights—in EU-Iran relations. As a result, the EU policy increasingly resembled U.S. policy on Iran. A decade of independent and imaginative EU policy ended with the passage of U.N. Resolution 1929 in June 2010.
- Between 2010 and 2013, the European Union imposed increasingly tight sanctions on Iran, including an oil embargo, over its nuclear program. Talks between Iran and the EU3+3—Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States (also known as the P5+1)—failed to produce an agreement on the nuclear issue.
- New diplomatic efforts following the 2013 election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani yielded an interim nuclear deal in November 2013 and a final deal in July 2015. The EU high representative on foreign policy — along with the EU “Big Three” (Britain, France and Germany) —played a critical role in the negotiations.
Second, sanctions ceased to be a tool because they became both the EU's strategy and policy on Iran. The array of sanctions imposed under four U.N. resolutions since 2006 progressively moved toward a containment policy. For Europe, they were also effectively irreversible without U.S. consent. From that perspective, the EU out-sanctioned itself from having any influence with Iran.
*Data source: European Commission
- EU-Iran commercial ties are likely to expand following the lifting of sanctions as part of the implementation of the final nuclear deal.
- The EU is keen on encouraging Iran to play a constructive role in the Middle East, especially in Syria, and to engage with the Gulf states.
- Iran’s performance on human rights will be a key to EU actions. Further deterioration on rights issues could lead to additional EU travel bans against officials tied to abuses. The human rights issue could also increase the European parliament’s role in shaping the European debate on Iran policy.
Photo credits: European Union map (cropped) by Kolja21 (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons; Rafsanjani via HashemiRafsanjani.ir; Khatami via Khamenei.ir; EU ministers in Iran by Mojtaba Salimi (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons; Ahmadinejad at Natanz via Iranian President's Office and The New York Times; EU+3 and Iranian officials via U.S. State Department; Rouhani with Mogherini and Hollande via President.ir
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"The Iran Primer"--Book Overview
The world’s most comprehensive website on Iran, “The Primer” brings together 50 experts—Western and Iranian—in concise chapters on politics, economy, military, foreign policy, and the nuclear program. It chronicles events under six U.S. presidents. It also has leader bios, timelines, data on nuclear sites—and context for what lies ahead. New articles are added at the top.