In English

Speech on EU relations to Iraq and Iran - at EP Iraq delegation meeting

26.9.2012

Dear colleagues,

First of all, let me express my congratulations to Mr Stevenson for organising this event. I think there is never bad timing for a deep and strategic discussion on Iraq and its neighbours but this autumn seems to become a decisive period for the region bearing important implications for Iraq and for us in Europe. As a chair of Iran delegation I would like to make a few points and contribute to this roundtable with my observations.

Let me say at the outset, the EP's delegation for relations with Iran is focusing its work primarily on Iran's (very limited) dialogue with the EU. However, in my view it is very important to take a wider view and look at Iran's relations with its neighbours. In this regard, this roundtable is really serving the purpose of increasing the cooperation between the delegations, and widening the scope of our discussion.

In my intervention, I would like to speak about two interrelated issues. First, I will explain why Iran's relations with Iraq are very important for Europe. Second, I would like to give some ideas as to how EU could respond to the current situation.


Why Iran's relations with Iraq are so crucial for Europe?

Iran is a pivotal actor for the regional political and security architecture. Because of the Arab spring, the turmoil in Syria and the current diplomatic negotiations over Iran's nuclear programme including a possibility of a military strike by Israel, the regional security architecture is again changing. However, despite this change there are two factors that remain constant - security interdependence in the region and mutual mistrust. Because there are no security guaranties that the regional actors can grant each other to prevent conflict, they must rely on complex bilateral relationships bent on balancing each other. For example, Syria has strong and special bilateral relations with Iran, Iran develops special relationship with Iraq, and Israel has a long-standing alliance with the US. To this already complex picture, we must add the new leaders of Egypt, and Libya, as well as the countries of the Gulf and it becomes obvious that the region is interdependent but this interdependence is built on deeply-rooted mutual mistrust. Some might compare this situation to medieval Europe, but I would say that four hundreds years ago in Europe there were no nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. I am concerned that a very likely outcome of this dangerous regional situation is the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The last thing we want is the emergence of nuclear weapons as a sort of mutual security guarantee.

There are voices in the expert community, notably by Dr Kenneth Waltz, a classic of political realism, who would argue that if for example Israel and Iran would both own a nuclear bomb this could lead to stability in the region based on mutual destruction. I can only wonder how the neighbours would feel about this prospective, including Iraq! If in theory, this proposal can of course exist, I think there is no scope for it in practice.

Now, let me say a few words specifically about the Iran-Iraq relations. I think it is very important we understand this bilateral dynamics because it is key to many developments around Iran including the current E3+3 negotiations.

As expert reports assess, after the fall of the Saddam's regime Iran has tried to gain a considerable power and influence in Iraq. There has been intensive exchange of visits between Iraqis and Iran's leaders, there are renewed trade relations, and as frequently reported in the media, a very close cooperation on security matters between the intelligence and security services of both countries.

According to most experts, Iran's main strategic objectives have been, first, to help the formation of an Iranian-friendly government in Baghdad, and second, to prevent the country from regaining too much military clout of its own or supporting a possibly strike on Iran by another country.

There are several challenges and 'litmus tests' as to how far Iran can exert its influence over Iraq. One such test is the current regime of sanctions imposed by the US and EU. The question is whether Iran can use Iraq to overcome the sanctions, probably with an increase in oil smuggling across the Kurdish—Iranian or southern Iran—Iraq borders? Obviously, such clandestine economic activities could have a negative impact on Iraq’s economy and promote corruption across the Iran—Iraq border. According to the New York Times report, Iraqi government officials are turning a blind eye to the large financial flows, smuggling and other trade with Iran.


As you might know I have always been in favour of the diplomatic solution to the issue of Iranian nuclear programme. What worries me about the current situation around the sanctions is that the sanctions hurt the population but so do the activities to overcome the sanctions through illegal border trafficking and other means. The result is corruption, profiteering of regional clans at the expense of the society at large.

What is the way forward?

We need peace and stability for both Iran and Iraq, for the peoples of these countries. We need stable security architecture for the entire region. As far as I understand, trust is crucial and the trust which is built in strong institutions and norms, we can never escape the threat of war in the region and the treat of nuclear proliferation. One such very important trust-building measure is the creation of the Nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. The UN has adopted this as its objective and there will be a conference in Helsinki sought to build the zone. I welcome this initiative and hope this will become a reality.

Thank you chairman, I am looking forward to a discussion.

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