Iran can help EU preserve the JCPOA by continuing negotiations with Europe?

Iran Review | Rahman Qahremanpour: Q: What is your opinion about Iran’s expectations of the European package of proposals? Why Iran has been critical of the European Union’s package?

A: In my opinion, the most important expectation of Iran from the European package is to make sure that Europe is serious in cooperation with Iran for the preservation of the nuclear deal, known has the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and that it has the necessary will to do this. This issue is very important for Iran, because if the Islamic Republic of Iran is to stay in the JCPOA, it depends on Europe’s success in offering the necessary support for Tehran. As we know, after accepting the JCPOA in 2015, Iran lost a series of opportunities and, in return, was faced with new ones. At a time that [US President Donald] Trump has quit the agreement, it would be detrimental to Iran if it stayed in it and faced new sanctions as well. Therefore, Iran wants to make sure whether Europe is willing to maintain the JCPOA through cooperation with Iran after Trump withdrew from it. In my opinion, early proposals offered to Iran by Europe caused some doubt in Tehran about Europeans’ will to do this. However, following recent remarks by European officials, especially reactivation of the “Blocking Regulation” by the Council of the European Union and other measures, it seems that Iran’s attitude toward Europe has become more positive in recent weeks and the Islamic Republic feels that Europe has a serious will to preserve the JCPOA. Therefore, one can say that these developments have caused Iran to look more optimistically at the possibility of maintaining the JCPOA. At the same time, Europe has reached the conclusion that it must give a more serious answer to Iran’s concern and this is why it has fulfilled part of its commitments.

Q: So, if Iran’s expectations are not met through the European package, what would be Tehran’s next step in this regard?

A: Look, after Trump’s visit to the UK and his controversial meeting with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, it seems that Europe has mustered a stronger will to oppose the United States’ excessive demands and this is an important issue. At the present time, Trump’s position has been challenged in the United States and he is under increasing fire for his performance. On the other hand, after he proposed British Prime Minister Theresa May to take legal action against the European Union over the Brexit, the “transatlantic” gap has become evident more than ever before. As a result, the German foreign minister clearly noted that Europe could no longer count on the White House. In other words, this unexpected development at the transatlantic level can be considered as an opportunity for Iran. Therefore, the widening gap between the two sides of the Atlantic has increased Iran’s hope that Europeans would withstand the United States’ excessive demands. However, the reality, which must not be ignored here, is that following new unexpected developments, options available to Iran are prone to change. For example, the country may switch from keeping the JCPOA to leaving it. It does not seem that the option to preserve the JCPOA in cooperation with Russia and China would be beneficial to Iran from an economic viewpoint. In view of its position, the European Union (EU), along with China and Russia, can provide a better guarantee for the survival of the JCPOA and if, for any reason, Iran and the EU start to disagree, China and Russia are two actors with which Iran can enter into a deal. However, the remarks made by Chinese and Russian officials show that they are also willing for Iran to preserve the JCPOA in cooperation with the European Union, China and Russia, and have implied that they cannot preserve the JCPOA on their own.

Q: What are the most important factors affecting the European Union’s effort to preserve the JCPOA?

A: It seems that for the European Union, security concerns are of higher priority. Our conditions now are different from the interval between 2003 and 2005 when we negotiated with Europeans and, of course, they stood on higher grounds compared to the present time and were less willing to give any concessions to Iran. On the other hand, after the “Arab Spring” developments, which started in the Arab world in 2011 and were followed with the civil war in Syria and the Daesh invasion of Iraq, and also due to internal problems facing the EU, especially the issue of Brexit and persistent financial crisis facing European countries, security concerns have turned into a serious concern for Europe. Due to its geographical propinquity to the Middle East, security of Europe is being threatened on several fronts. One of the most important problems is currently the flood of refugees and asylum seekers, who head to Europe from the Middle East and North Africa and cause their own problems. These problems include demographic changes in Europe and their impact on helping growth of radical right parties. European Union officials are worried that if the nuclear deal with Iran fails, it would lead to more insecurity and instability in the Middle East. The result of such instability will be direct threat to security of the European Union and the entire Europe. This may happen under conditions that some of these countries are still stalled by various financial crises and have not regained their past conditions. Therefore, it seems that security is now the most important concern of the European Union. Following security, economic interests and the prestige of the European Union may be of concern as well. The European Union is willing to show that it can play a role on global political stage even without the United States.

Q: How the Islamic Republic of Iran can increase the chance of success for the European Union’s effort to preserve the JCPOA?

A: It seems that under the current circumstances, Iran can do this by continuing negotiations and dialogue with the European Union. Of course, the French foreign minister and some other European officials have urged Iran even not to raise the threat of quitting the JCPOA. What is important is that Iran should not restrict dialogue with the European Union and learn its lesson from what happened from 2003 to 2005, just in the same way that the EU has also learned its lesson from Iran’s talks with the EU3 and is acting on the basis of those realities. It seems that Iran’s policy must follow the same trend. Therefore, high-ranking officials of Iran have emphasized the need to continue negotiations with the European Union and previous concerns between the two sides have somehow subsided in the past couple of weeks. This is a positive sign for Europeans, which will make them more resolved in continuing on their current path. In general, Europeans expect Iran to use its regional influence to prevent further escalation of crises and possible flow of refugees and asylum seekers toward the EU borders.

Interviewer: Ramin Nadimi
 Expert in Defense and Military Affairs

*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review’s viewpoints.