Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Author: Daniel Moshashai
On 25 April, the European Union’s High Representative (EUHR) Federica Mogherini and the European External Action Service’s (EEAS) Secretary General Helga Schmid, met with representatives of the E3+3 and Iran in order to voice their continued adherence to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) which has been under implementation since January 2016. Gathering the deputy foreign ministers of France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia and China, the event also hosted some representatives from the United States of America and Iran, an unprecedented move since the election of Donald Trump at the White House. This development arises in the midst of contradictory statements from Washington, stating that Iran is not “living up to the spirit of the agreement” (Olorunnipa, 2017), which consists of sanctions waiver against Iran dramatically downgrading its nuclear capabilities.
Indeed, the current American administration has made it clear that it adopted a more stringent approach to the enforcement of the JCPOA compared to the previous administration which has been deemed to not being “terribly interested in enforcing the spirit of the deal”, according to a senior Trump official (Gaouette, 2017). Although Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged Iran’s compliance of the terms of the JCPOA, he strongly criticised the logic behind such an agreement as being “another example of buying off a power who has nuclear ambitions” for a short period of time (Olorunnipa, 2017). According to Cornelius Adebahr, a fellow at Carnegie Europe, Trump has chosen to “aggressively enforce the deal” in the hope of pressuring the Iranians into unilaterally withdrawing from the JCPOA (Adebahr, 2017). As a matter of fact, the White House wants to tightly knit this agreement with Iran’s dismal Human Rights record, its support of terror groups like Hezbollah and its role in the Syrian and Yemeni conflicts, thus maintaining the Islamic Republic under constant international scrutiny. Tillerson’s letter to the Congress reflected such a strategy by embracing a tough language defining Iran as “the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism” and a destabilising force for the Middle-East (DiChristopher, 2017).
Calling such statements as “worn-out accusations, Iran’s foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif heavily relies on the European Union’s (EU) role as the guardian of the JCPOA (Olorunnipa, 2017). In fact, Federica Mogherini has time and again showcased her commitment to the JCPOA’s implementation, including during a high-level meeting with the Trump administration on 10 February. Recognising that the European Union has entered a “new era” in its relationship with the USA, Mogherini claimed that a “more pragmatic ad transactional” tone was welcome between Brussels and Washington while stressing the fact that there could periodically be differences in terms of political views (Gaouette, 2017). Such differences are highly visible in the case of the JCPOA as the EU has adopted a countervailing position towards the USA. It has indeed bolstered its diplomatic engagement by increasing back channel efforts from European heads of states to support the JCPOA. For instance, while the USA put Iran “on notice” for test firing a ballistic missile earlier this year, the EU Foreign Policy spokeswoman Nabila Massrali declared that such tests were not in violation of the JCPOA but simply represented an “inconsistency”(Nasseri, 2017).
In addition to diplomatic engagements, the EU has also shown a great interest for Iran’s economic potentials. Peugeot’s Vice-President for the Middle-East and Africa, Jean-Christophe Quémard reflects European businesses’ involvement in Iran as he declared that “times have changed” and that “you need to get used to seeing our faces in Tehran” (Motevalli, 2017). Indeed, Germany’s Kfw Development bank and Italy’s SACE Spa as well as CDP group respectively pledged €1.2 billion and €9 billion in November 2016 for the construction of a railroad and the issuance of loans and guarantees on the Iranian market (ibid). Furthermore, the EU has heavily invested itself in improving nuclear governance in Iran in order to maintain this country’s commitment to the JCPOA’s terms of agreement. In addition to having reduced by 98% its stockpile of low-enriched uranium and modernised its Arak nuclear powerplant (EEAS, 2017), Iran has participated from the 28 February to the 2 March in a high-level seminar in Brussels, on international nuclear cooperation, expectations and responsibilities. Hosted by Helga Schmid and Dominique Ristori, the head of the Commission’s Directorate General for Energy, this seminar helped both Iran and the EU to uphold the Annex III of the JCPOA which encourages the responsible use of nuclear energy (Commission, 2017).
Therefore, by expanding cooperation in economic, political and nuclear fields, the EU adopts a strategy of constructive engagement and assumes a positive role in entangling Iran within the international community and ensuring that the country respects the JCPOA. Such a role deeply contrasts with the new American administration’s strategy which the EU should counteract by insuring that American Foreign Policy does not lead Iran into more hardline policies threatening the existence of the JCPOA. With upcoming elections on the 19 May, the Iranian electorate will demonstrate whether it has taken into account Trump’s hostile vigilance or the EU’s positive engagement by either voting for the conservative candidate Ebrahim Raisi or choosing to maintain the current moderate president Hassan Rouhani in power.
Daniel is studying a Master of International Affairs between the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna and Johns Hopkins University. He has previously graduated with a Politics Bachelor from the School of Oriental and African Studies and has specialised in the Middle East region. With diverse experiences in translation for an Iranian NGO, business research for a Kenyan FinTech Start-up and Human Rights monitoring in London, Daniel is mostly interested in identifying the different areas of common interests between the EU and the Middle East, beyond short-term geostrategic interests and cultural misunderstandings.
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