By Behzad Ahmadi Lafuraki (Source: Iran Review)
Supporters of President-Elect Hassan Rohani
Hassan Rohani has finally emerged as the winner of Iran's 11th presidential election which was held on June 14, 2013, by getting an absolute majority of Iranian people’s votes, especially those cast by the youth, women and various Iranian ethnic groups. His election clearly proved that the Iranian nation has made up its mind to see a major change in the country’s current executive affairs and also seeks correction of the policies which were followed by the previous administration. Of special importance here is the area of foreign policy, relations with the rest of the world, as well as better and more efficient handling of Iran's nuclear issue in such a way that in addition to having international sanctions against Iran removed, protect the inalienable rights of the Iranian nation. There is no doubt that the election of Rohani, who is known as a moderate political figure that has the trust of the Leader of the Islamic Revolution and most political factions inside the country, and whose records with regard to nuclear talks with the European Union (EU) are quite positive, has provided the EU with a valuable opportunity to make a basic revision in its relations with Iran and correct its past wrong policies toward the Islamic Republic. In his first press conference following his election, the Iranian president-elect announced that he will seek to improve the economic situation of the Iranian people, prevent further sanctions from being imposed on Iran, and reduce the extent of the existing sanctions with the final goal of having them totally revoked. Rohani also stated that he is ready to solve the existing problems which exist between Iran and other countries and expand the Islamic Republic’s relations with all countries except Israel. He added that the first step to be taken in the direction of having sanctions removed is to increase transparency about the country’s nuclear energy program, noting that Iran will be ready to be even more transparent than what it has been so far. The second major step to be taken by Rohani administration, he said, is to build mutual confidence between Iran and other countries, noting that Iran will try to restore the trust of international community in its nuclear activities. Most European states have already hailed Rohani’s comments and expressed hope about improvement of bilateral relations with Tehran. The question now is will mere expression of hope for the improvement of bilateral relations be sufficient, or the European Union should take the best advantage of the opportunity offered to it and, as put by Rohani, help to turn the new political atmosphere into a new opportunity for the improvement of relations with Iran?
Perhaps the European states will argue that up to the present day, the policy that they had adopted toward Iran by going on with international negotiations with the Islamic Republic on the one hand, while putting mounting pressure on the country, on the other hand, has been successful. They may believe that their policy, which has been implemented in cooperation with the United States, has put tremendous pressure on the Iranian economy, so that, by reducing the possibility of a military confrontation between Iran and the West, it has created the highest capacity for finding a diplomatic solution to problems with Iran. The European states may even allege that their creditable performance with regard to Iran has been the most notable achievement of their common foreign and security policy and this has increased their motivation to go on with and further strengthen that policy. Meanwhile, the European states may claim that their collaboration with the United States with regard to Iran has been effective in isolating Iran within the international community.
However, despite all the aforesaid apparent achievements, if the main goal of adopting punitive and tough policies on a country with the coordinates and characteristics of Iran, was to force it to give in to the demands of the West and the European Union, those policies should be considered a failure as the European Union has not been able to achieve its goals in that regard. This is especially true when taking into account that the main demands of the European states included total suspension of Iran's uranium enrichment activities, total halt on the activities of Fordow nuclear facility, allowing inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which were far beyond the framework of IAEA's mandate and international law, and getting Iran to forego its legitimate regional interests, including in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and the Persian Gulf region.
The question which currently preoccupies many of the Iranians is what goal does Europe pursue through its current policies toward Iran? Perhaps the most important answer that the European countries can give to this question is to prevent further progress of Iran's nuclear energy program toward a military program, though existence of diversion in Iran's nuclear activities toward military purposes has been so far nothing but an unsubstantiated allegation. The European Union claims that the main goal of preventing development of a nuclear weapon program in Iran is to protect and maintain regional security and prevent a nuclear arms race in the region. But does the existing situation in the region is the same thing which is described as regional stability by the EU? Even if it is so, why other aspects and dimensions of regional stability in which Iran plays a key role, are not taken into account? Why the European Union has joined hands with the United States in efforts whose main goal is to eliminate Iran from international efforts that are aimed at resolving various regional crises from the crisis in Syria to stability in Afghanistan, tension among Palestinians and Israel, stability in Iraq, fighting drug trafficking, and fighting Salafist extremism? Why the European Union does not attach due importance and priority to the issue of establishing a Middle East free from all kinds of weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons, and creation of a collective security system which would guarantee the security of all regional countries? Iran has been a regular party proposing and seriously promoting this proposition.
There is no doubt that the European Union’s focus on Iran's nuclear energy program has caused the Union to fail to follow its other areas of interest in relation to Iran. During past years, the member states of the European Union have ignored other aspects of their relations with the Islamic Republic, including the security and economic power of Iran, and had restricted their interactions with Iran to the country’s nuclear energy program, which is in fact, a red line set by the Israeli regime. Such a policy does not conform to the existing realities of the world politics and cannot meet the interests of the Union’s member states, nor help to promote international and regional peace and stability. Therefore, the “government of foresight and hope” (the name that Mr. Rohani has chosen for the next Iranian administration) can be the best opportunity for the European Union to review its approach to Iran and adopt a new, overarching and correct policy toward the Islamic Republic. It would be better for the European Union to not only think about its own interests, but also take into account Iran's logical and legitimate concerns and interests. Therefore, the Union should formulate its new policies in such a way that the way would be paved for the expansion of bilateral relations with Iran. European states should consider giving concessions to Iran in order to prompt Rohani to opt for a new approach to nuclear talks with the P5+1 in a bid to end the current standoff between Iran and the West over the Iran's nuclear program. The ball is now in Europe’s court. Reducing pressures and sanctions against Iran can be a good first step to help both sides to meet their interests in the best possible manner.
*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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