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Is Europe Iran's new enemy?

New Europe 24.2.2013


The EU should formulate a strategic approach towards Iran looking beyond the next round of negotiations on 26 February in Kazakhstan.

The Iran's Rial has lost more than 40 percent of its value in the past six months, while the price of many essential medicines has significantly increased. The meltdown of Iran's economy has mostly been due to the sanctions the US and EU imposed in 2012.
The assumption was that the sanctions, termed as 'smart and targeted', would put sufficient pressure on Tehran regarding its nuclear programme.

The effect of the sanctions has turned out to be mixed. The sanctions gave Iran's leaders the basis to claim popular legitimacy for the nuclear programme. Despite being discontented with many policies of the government, many Iranians think that their country should not be denied access to nuclear energy. However much they disapprove of the government's authoritative policies, many Iranians generally accept the government's determination to continue enriching uranium and developing its nuclear programme.

The sanctions have made life very difficult for ordinary Iranians. According to various reports, up to 75 percent of haemophilia treatment medicine used there is produced in Europe, whereas other medicines and even baby milk need to be imported from elsewhere. Buying or delivering medicines from abroad is increasingly difficult due to the financial restrictions imposed by the EU on Iranian banks and companies engaged in trade with Iran. As reports of patients dying because of lack of medicine emerge, the EU is perceived to be the cruel policeman punishing Iran for developing a nuclear programme.

It is ironic that Europe is currently acquiring an image as the enemy among Iranians. Compared to the US - Iran's long-standing popular nemesis - the EU does not have a history of mutual threats and diplomatic blockades. The EU, that owes its origins to a peace project and favours multilateralism in international relations, wants be perceived as a benevolent negotiator. Yet it seems that sanctions have become the policy tool of choice for the EU in the absence of alternatives such as public diplomacy or sectoral dialogue. But can the EU rely on the sanctions as its only policy tool in the long-term and continue thinking of itself as a prize-winning peace-maker?

This is something that Catherine Ashton should take into consideration as she prepares for the new round of talks between Iran, the UN Security Council members and Germany in Kazakhstan. If the forthcoming negotiations end up in stalemate the negative impact of the sanctions on the humanitarian level will only be aggravated by a complete diplomatic vacuum between Iran and the EU.

The need for the EU to have a strategic approach to Iran is as pertinent as ever. It is a great challenge to persuade the Iranian leadership to cut down on the number of centrifuges but the EU has to be up to yet another challenge of formulating its own strategic long-term policy vis-à-vis Iran.

MEP Tarja Cronberg (Greens/EFA)
Chair of European Parliament delegation for relations with Iran
The text was originally published by the New Europe
http://www.neurope.eu/blog/europe-iran-s-new-enemy

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