By Behzad Ahmadi Lafuraki (source: Iran Review)
The main signal sent by the European countries to Iran these days is their readiness to cooperate with the new Iranian President Dr. Hassan Rouhani. It seems that the announcement by the new Iranian president about his decision to engage in constructive interaction with the world has drawn serious attention from all quarters. However, what is the main reason behind this positive reaction and renewed hope in the opening of a new chapter in Iran's relations with the European countries? Is this reaction merely a repetition of the same story of improving relations which took place after the election of Mr. Mohammad Khatami as Iran's president? It is simply a result of the moderate approach taken by Dr. Rouhani and the familiarity of the European politicians with his ways, or there is other dynamism involved in that Europe sees the election win of Mr. Rouhani an opportunity to review its approach to Iran and adopt an overarching and multilateral policy toward the Islamic Republic? Correct answer to the above questions are important in that they help Iran to take a more realistic approach to the European Union (EU) and does not react to the EU’s initiatives solely on the basis of past cliches or in accordance with normative values. In that case, it would be possible for Iran to take advantage of the opportunity offered to it and take steps in a structural and constructive way to revive bilateral relations with the European Union and its important member states.
Weaknesses in EU’s foreign policy approach to Iran
To answer the above questions, we need first to review the achievements of the policy adopted toward Iran by the EU and its main member states. In general, criticism of the EU’s policy toward Iran can be focused on two major issues: firstly, Western states, including the EU, have not come to grips with the reality about Iran and have not understood how to accept Iran's role in the international community and the Middle East region. On the other hand, they have failed to prevent Iran from pursuing its goals in the region just in the same way that they have failed to stop Iran's nuclear energy program. Within this framework, the following reasons have been influential in increasing the criticism of the EU policies toward Iran:
- Inefficiency of the EU sanctions against Iran;
- Inefficiency of military threat and the “red line” scenario;
- EU’s admission that it needs to recognize Iran's role, interests and concerns in the region;
- Admission of the importance of regional stability and security as the foremost priority.
Proposals for the correction of EU policy toward Iran
At present, there are few people in Europe who demand increased pressure on and a tougher approach to Iran. On the opposite, most European experts believe that:
- When it comes to Iran, the EU has not been able to guarantee its interests in other fields [than the nuclear energy program]. If, they argue, the EU failed to see various issues in their entirety, it would not be able to find answers to more logical concerns of Iran and give a suitable response to them. Therefore, the victory of Dr. Rouhani has provided EU with an opportunity to review its long-term interests with Iran instead of merely dealing with Iran on the basis of the country’s nuclear energy program.
- In terms of political strategy, the European Union needs to recognize the Islamic Republic as one of its interests in the region and the world. The EU member states, therefore, should not imagine that the issue of Iran is just an opportunity offered to them by the United States and through the support of Russia and China in order to play their role as an important global player.
- The isolation of Iran and threats posed to it by the West as well as its own neighbors can be considered one of the most important reasons which may prompt Iran to move toward actual production of nuclear bomb. In that case, Iran would need the nuclear weapons, not to annihilate Israel, but to protect its own security. Therefore, the EU should give up its threatening language and in addition to gradual revocation of sanctions against Tehran, do its best to expand security and economic cooperation with Iran in order to encourage the Iranian government to find a solution to its nuclear issue.
- Instead of condemning Iran, the EU should approach Iran from the viewpoint of non-proliferation issues and accept Iranian officials’ remarks that their country has no intention of building any kind of weapons of mass destruction. In other words, the nuclear issue of Iran should be considered for discussion in order to protect the regional stability, guarantee good implementation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and ensure the security of all other involved players, not simply for the sake of Israel and its security.
The way ahead of Iran
Profound analysis of not the official positions of European states on Iran, but the viewpoints of the European expert community about Iran will provide the Islamic Republic with multiple opportunities. By taking advantage of these opportunities and adopting a suitable and pragmatic policy, Iran will be certainly able to engage in a win-win game with the Europeans. The European Union has been aware of the aforesaid facts for a long time. The new Iranian government should not only take all the above realities into account, but also take advantage of the new conditions and take a constructive approach to the EU. In doing this:
- Iran should have a good grasp of its regional position and influence. Therefore, in any attempt to boost its regional power, Iran should act in such a way that it would not make other regional countries feel threatened and take countermeasures to restrict the influence of Iran. This means that Iran should manage its own dynamism and being aware of the EU’s viewpoint, try to secure its own interests while showing respect for the interests of the European countries. Giving priority to improving Iran's relations with the regional countries by the new Iranian government while advancing its relations with transregional powers, and helping to resolve such regional crises as the ongoing crisis in Syria, can be good steps in this direction.
- Iran should show more serious and clear support for the efforts made by the United Nations to establish a Middle East free of nuclear weapons and also call on the European Union to support this cause openly and without any ambiguity. Obliging all the signatories to the NPT to sign the Additional Protocol will be the next step in this regard.
- When completing the plan to free the Middle East of nuclear weapons, Iran should also pioneer the formulation of a collective security system for the entire region and urge the European states to show their firm commitment to this system and help in establishing it. There is no doubt that taking advantage of the experiences of the EU, as the representative of a part of the world which has been the scene of wars and bloodshed through most of its history, will be very helpful in this regard.
- The results of the inspection of Iran's nuclear facilities and program by the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will have a serious effect on the policies adopted by the European Union toward Iran. What can be understood from the remarks of the European experts is that the EU seeks Iran's nuclear issue to be solved by the IAEA, not by the United Nations Security Council. Therefore, in this new approach to negotiations with the IAEA and resolution of Iran's nuclear issue through the Agency, the majority of the EU member states will have enough reason to revive structural relations with Iran.
- While rightfully expecting the European Union to remove sanctions against Tehran, Iran can also take certain measures to facilitate removal of the sanctions. Conversion of the 20-percent enriched uranium into nuclear fuel or similar substances will be an effective measure on the part of Iran to have EU sanctions against it removed. The time gained through a possible agreement between the two sides on this issue will make it possible for both of them to focus on long-term challenges and will also change their foreign policy options for the better.
About the author: Behzad Ahmadi Lafuraki is the director of international relations at Tehran International Studies & Research Institute and analyst of EU and NATO affairs.
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