Europe Reaches Out to Iran

June 29, 2016

European nations eagerly reached out to Iran in the year following the signing of a historic nuclear deal between Iran and the world's six major powers. The European Union – along with the United Kingdom, France, and Germany – played a critical role in the nuclear negotiations. They were also among the first to seek greater political and economic ties with Iran after the deal. Other countries, such as Italy, also quickly sought to renew trade ties that had been stifled during the last round of E.U. sanctions. Around half of the 140 economic delegations that visited Iran between March and December 2015 were from European countries. 

The nuclear deal was implemented on Jan. 16, 2016, and certain U.S., E.U., and U.N. sanctions were lifted. Less than 10 days later, President Hassan Rouhani embarked on his first visit to Europe. "Expansion of relations with E.U. members is among Tehran's main policies," he said before the trip. The following is a rundown of European outreach to Iran in the year since the deal was signed.


European Union

E.U. officials quickly reached out to Iran once the deal was signed. On July 28, 2015, E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini 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 Vienna deal tells us that we all have much to earn if we choose cooperation over confrontation," she wrote. "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."
On Nov. 7, 2015, 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.

On April 16, 2016, Mogherini and seven other high ranking E.U. officials visited Iran to discuss implementation of the nuclear deal, boost economic ties, and increase cooperation on humanitarian, environmental and social issues. “Our dialogue will be open, critical at times, because we both know that we clearly have different positions on certain files,” Mogherini noted.

On June 7, 2016, Mogherini said that “The deal does not imply that all our disagreements with Iran have disappeared overnight. Or that they will disappear anytime soon.” 



Despite taking a tough stance during the nuclear negotiations, France was among the first European countries to seek improved ties with Iran after the deal was signed. On July 23, 2015, French President Francois Hollande and President 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.” The French president 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 Rouhani to visit President Hollande in France. "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 accepted the foreign minister's offer and traveled to France on Jan. 27, 2016 for meetings with Hollande, Fabius, 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 aircraft manufacturer 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. Rouhani’s visit, however, prompted protests from French human rights groups against executions in Iran.
Zarif visited Paris on June 21, 2016, for two days of meetings with officials, including Hollande. It was his first official trip to France.


United Kingdom

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, in a phone call with Rouhani. 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 Aug. 23, 2015, 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, Zarif  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, three days after the nuclear deal was implemented, David Cameron once again congratulated Rouhani in 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.

On Feb. 4, 2016, 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."



On July 20, 2015, 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 Rouhani, Zarif, and Parliamentary Speaker Larijani.



On June 15, 2016, Zarif traveled to Germany and met with Steinmeier. “The economic cooperation between Iran and Germany has been beneficial to both countries and to the stability of the region and the world,” Zarif said during his a press conference with Steinmeier on June 15. 



Italy, which used to be one of Iran’s major trade partners, has been eager to revive economic ties. On Aug. 4, 2015, Foreign Minister Paolo 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. 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.”
Rouhani visited Italy on Jan. 25, 2016, as part of his first trip to Europe. Iran and Italy reportedly signed around $18.4 billion in deals for cooperation in energy, infrastructure, shipbuilding, and mining. Rouhani said 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."  He invited Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and President Sergio Mattarella to visit Tehran.

Renzi accepted Rouhani's offer, and he traveled to Tehran on April 12, 2016 for a two-day visit. Renzi met with Rouhani, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, First Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri, Parliamentary Speaker Larijani, and other officials. Italy reportedly extended Iran 5 billion euros in credit lines and guarantees for exports – one of the most significant economic deals since the nuclear agreement.

During the visit, Renzi said that “We are in Iran, but not only to sign economic contracts. There are many economic opportunities for both countries which should be taken seriously, but more than anything else, there is a common feeling between the two great civilizations of Persia and Rome.” President Rouhani added that "Today, after the lifting of sanctions, Italy is a forerunner in the development of Iran-EU ties."
On June 17, 2016, Iran’s ambassador to Rome, Jahanbaksh Mozaffari attended a conference with 200 Italian businessmen. “The unprecedented interest of Italian investors for being present in Iran indicates that enemies have failed to prevent the execution of the JCPOA,” he said



Austria was among the first nations to reach out to Iran following the nuclear deal. Austrian President Heinz Fischer spoke to Rouhani by phone on July 15, 2015, the day after the deal was signed. Rouhani said the agreement would “lay the groundwork for the expansion of ties between Tehran and Vienna.”

Fischer then visited Tehran from Sept. 7 to 9, 2015, 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 Khamenei and Rouhani during his visit. Khamenei praised Austria for not complying with "the United States' hostile policies towards Iran."

Rouhani was scheduled to travel to Austria to meet with Fischer and other officials in March 2015. But on March 29, Rouhani abruptly canceled the visit. The trip was postponed due to “security reasons,” according to the president’s website.

Austria’s Interior Ministry claimed to have found “no concrete signs of a security threat.” But Fischer issued a statement asserting that “Every nation has to decide for itself about the safety and security of its head of state.” He added that “The quality of the relations with Iran won’t be touched by this delay and the cooperation in the realm of politics, business, culture, and science will be continued in a comprehensive manner.” The Austrian Chamber of Commerce had said that up to $2.3 billion in deals would have been signed during the visit.



Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders and an economic delegation visited Tehran on Nov. 9, 2015, meeting with Rouhani and Zarif. The officials discussed strengthening 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."



Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo met with Iranian officials in Tehran from September 7 to 9, 2015. 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 Zanganeh said the two countries discussed the possibility of exporting crude oil and natural gas to Spain. Additionally, Zarif met with Garcia-Margallo, and said that Iran and Spain "agreed to negotiate about human rights and refugee issues.”

After the deal was implemented in January, Garcia-Magallo told reporters that Iran and Spain were discussing the construction of a refinery in the Gibralter strait. "Our political relationship with Iran is very good because we moved faster than other countries and are now very well placed for future business," he said on January 18. In April, a delegation from Spain's Barcelona Oil Company traveled to Tehran to negotiate purchases of Iran's petrochemical products.



Swiss Deputy Foreign Minister Yves Rossier arrived in Tehran on July 21, 2015, for a four-day trip to meet with Iranian officials, including 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 Aug. 12, 2015, Switzerland became the first nation to lift sanctions on Iran after the nuclear deal was announced.

Deputy Foreign Minister Majid Takht Ravanchi met with Rossier in Bern on June 16, 2016. The two discussed political and economic ties, the nuclear deal, and combatting terrorism. 


On October 10-11, 2015, Polish Senate Speaker Bogdan Borusewicz visited Tehran, where he met with Rouhani, 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."
Zarif visited Poland in late May 2016, as part of a larger trip to Finland, Sweden, and Latvia. He was accompanied by a 60-member delegation. Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski met with Zarif during his visit and said that “We’ve always felt that Iran was part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

“After years of marginalization and even ostracism, Iran is coming back to the international stage as an important partner – an important player that will influence positive global solutions,” he added. Iran and Poland signed 30 agreements during the visit, according to Mohsen Jalalpour, head of Iran's Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture.


The Netherlands

Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders met with Rouhani, Zarif, and other officials in Tehran on September 21 and 22, 2015. It was the first time in 14 years that a Dutch foreign minister had visited Iran. Koenders said that Iran was "indispensible" in a "very difficult region in which we have to find peace and stability."

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.

In April 2016, Dutch Deputy Foreign Minister for Economic Affairs Martin Van den Berg and Iranian Deputy Finance and Economic Affairs Minister Mohammad Khazaei signed 10 memoranda of understanding to improve cooperation in energy, finance, and banking.



On June 13, 2016, Zarif visited Norway and met with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg. According to Solberg, the nuclear deal has allowed for greater political and economic cooperation between Iran and Norway. Iran was reportedly in talks with Norwegian oil and gas company Hemla Vantage to secure a $600 million deal to produce and export liquefied natural gas. 



Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic arrived in Tehran on Aug. 3, 2015 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.