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The CFSP in Action - Iran


In the continuing stand-off between Iran and virtually the whole of the international community over Iranian plans to develop a uranium enrichment capability whose most likely rationale is the making of fissile material for nuclear weapons, the EU has played a crucial role. It has brought together the initially differing US and European approaches in favour of diplomacy, backed by carrots or, if necessary, the stick of sanctions. And it has more recently played the leading role in the negotiations with Iran through Javier Solana, the EU’s High Representative for the CFSP, who now speaks to the Iranians on behalf not only of the EU3 (France, Germany and the UK) but also of the USA, Russia and China (known as the EU3 plus 3).


Following the Iranian revolution in 1979, and the holding hostage of US Embassy staff in Tehran, European and US policies towards Iran diverged, with the US seeking to isolate Iran while the Europeans sought to influence Iran through dialogue and the development of political and economic, including commercial, ties. Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa in 1989 against Salman Rushdie over his novel the Satanic Verses was a serious constraint. The EU however decided to pursue a "critical dialogue" with Iran in the mid-1990s. The talks would focus on human rights and the Middle East, where the Iranians remained hostile to the existence of Israel. In 1998 the Iranians, claiming to be unable to rescind a religious fatwa issued by the now dead Ayatollah Khomeini, nonetheless committed themselves to doing him no harm, opening the way to the start of negotiations in 2002 on an EU-Iran Technical and Cooperation Agreement.

Economic & Political Relations

Iran has had no official political or economic relations with the USA since 1979 (but Iranian and US officials have twice met in Baghdad - in May and July 2007 - as part of discussions about Iraqi security). As for the EU, it is now Iran’s largest trading partner. Iran faces continuing economic difficulties, with per capita GDP now 30 per cent below what it was before the 1979 revolution and a population explosion that has taken the country from 36 million people in 1979 to 67 million in 2003 – two-thirds of whom are under thirty. The economic difficulties continue despite Iran having 10 per cent of the world’s oil reserves. In particular, thanks to very low prices for refined petroleum products and shortage of refining capacity, Iran has to import nearly 40 per cent of its requirements.

The Nuclear Issue

In 2003 following the discovery that Iran had had a secret nuclear programme for 18 years, contrary to the safeguards agreement Iran had with the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA). The EU suspended the negotiations and called on Iran - already a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty - to sign the Additional Protocol to the Treaty which would give the IAEA more rigorous inspection rights. In October 2003 the Foreign Ministers of three EU Member States (France, Germany and the United Kingdom, who came to be called the EU3 or E3) visited Tehran at Iran’s invitation, resulting in the Tehran Declaration under which Iran agreed to sign the Additional Protocol and voluntarily to suspend uranium enrichment. The EU-3 also offered Iran a comprehensive package of civilian nuclear technology and economic and political incentives in return for Iran permanently suspending its nuclear fuel cycle work. In November 2004 in Paris, Iran agreed to do this in writing. This was despite sharp EU criticism of the flawed Iranian Parliamentary elections of January 2004, in which most reformers were banned from seeking election

In accordance with the agreement of 2004, the EU-3 presented detailed proposals to Iran at the beginning of August 2005 on a long-term agreement covering issues such as civil nuclear energy co-operation as well as trade. But the election of President Ahmadinejad on 3 August 2005 was followed by Iran resuming uranium enrichment two days later. As a result, Iran was reported to the board of the IAEA.

President Ahmadinejad denunciation in November 2005 of the very existence of Israel, other subsequent hostile statements about Israel and growing concern about the human rights situation in Iran brought condemnation from the EU and around the world and inevitably made further discussions on the nuclear issue difficult. The IAEA continued to find Iran’s nuclear programme less than transparent and Iran has still not ratified or fully implemented the Additional Protocol. Javier Solana, the EU’s High Representative for CFSP, visited Tehran in June 2006 to try to get talks moving again on the basis of proposals agreed the permanent five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany at Vienna on 1 June 2006. On 31 July 2006 the UN Security Council adopted a resolution giving Iran one month to cease enriching uranium and other illegal activities and threatening sanctions if she did not do so.

Following publication of an IAEA report on 6 September 2006 confirming that Iran was still enriching uranium in defiance of the Security Council, talks continued between Javier Solana and an Iranian representative. Despite these talks Iran did not agree to suspend enrichment activities and the UN Security Council imposed sanctions in December 2006 as a consequence of Iran’s failure to comply with earlier resolutions. These sanctions, which prohibit other countries from assisting Iran with its nuclear programme, were strengthened in March 2007.

Iran’s response to the UN sanctions has been one of defiance, with repeated statements that she would continue her uranium enrichment activities. Nonetheless, talks have continued between the EU and Iran, with meetings in June and July 2007. Iran did announce in July 2007 her willingness to allow inspectors from the IAEA to inspect her heavy water plant at Arak and agreed to further safeguards at her enrichment facility. She also agreed to talks with the IAEA about her nuclear research activities but she remains adamant that it is for peaceful purposes and will not be given up. Further UN sanctions may follow if Iran does not change her position.

Despite the united front led by the EU there will be considerable tensions both over the tightening of sanctions and the possible use of force if Iran continues to defy the UN. The pressures in the US Congress for action against non-US companies doing business with Iran may exacerbate EU-US tension.

October 2006 and revised July 2007

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