Tarja Cronberg/TheGuardian: EU doesn't need a new approach to Iran - it just needs an approach20.1.2014
EU doesn't need a new approach to Iran - it just needs an approach
Brussels must work out its objectives and options when dealing with Tehran - and soon - or it will miss a major opportunity
theguardian.com, Monday 20 January 2014 16.04 GMT
'EU dealings with Iran need to be better worked out' Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters
As President Hassan Rouhani shows intentions to establish better relations with the international community, it is in the EU's interests to formulate a comprehensive and up-to-date Iran strategy.
After the adoption of the joint action plan on Iran's nuclear programme in Geneva in November 2013, the policy-makers in Tehran have received a growing number of high-level visitors from Europe, including the recent delegation of the British parliamentarians. I have myself led a delegation to Iran from the European parliament in December, the first meeting of its kind for six years. My personal impression of this visit is that the protracted period of silence is now being replaced by a plethora of voices on both sides. Expectations rise with every high-level meeting but a strategy on how to build a constructive relationship has yet to emerge.
Europe should be concerned with the lack of a strategy towards Iran. In recent years the bulk of European interaction has been via the international nuclear talks of the EU3+E group where the UK, France, and Germany are members and the EU foreign policy chief, Baroness Ashton, has a role as chair. Although a very important and extremely challenging process, it has not required a bilateral engagement with the Iranian leadership on a wide range of other issues. Baroness Ashton has been consistently impartial as a chair of the negotiating group so as not to give the impression of the EU having a special relationship with Iran and to maintain unity between all the negotiating powers. While this strategy has worked to nail down the agreement at Geneva, which France, for example, initially opposed, it is clearly not enough for the future when the nuclear dossier might be closing.
It is time that the EU overhauls its objectives and options towards Iran. While other world powers such as Russia or China have strong bilateral channels with Iran, the EU does not even have a diplomatic representation.
The European policy debate on Iran remains patchy. It is not nearly as consistent or clearly articulated as, for example, the US debate on Iran. This might come as an opportunity for the EU. Whereas the US debate seems to be caught in the perennial squabble between Congress and the Obama administration, the European context provides more openness for a comprehensive discourse. The Europeans should have a vigorous discussion in a multitude of fora what kind of relationship between the EU and Iran would be most desirable. A strategic European vision towards Iran has yet to emerge.
This vision could be based on three elements. First, there should be an understanding that engagement with the society of a country is the best way to secure cooperative relationship. There has been notoriously little exchange between the EU and Iran and even a very gradual increase in cultural, educational, and social exchanges will have a great positive effect. The Iranian people have a very strong interest towards Europe as well vice versa. The EU should find the instruments and resources to turn this mutual interest into lasting human ties.
Secondly, a direct dialogue with the leadership on all issues including the most sensitive ones is the most productive way to improve understanding. In the EU's Iran strategy, establishing a dialogue on human rights should be the most important objective. Here, the EU special representative for human rights could play a unique role of an emissary to talk to various branches of Iran's administration including the judiciary.
Thirdly, the EU should strive to nudge Iran to normalise its relations with the international community on a wide array of issues. Expanding economic ties, adopting global trade norms and rules, and developing innovative projects such as renewable energy and environmental protection could be very helpful.
The EU should not rush into a cosy partnership with Iran based on the assumption that all the problems will be resolved by the success at Geneva and Rouhani's new diplomacy. But putting the task off until the moment when there are no problems left would not work either. Ultimately, the right moment will arrive only and when the EU considers it to be so. That is why the EU should start thinking now so it can act strategically and timely. It may very well need to, and soon.
• Tarja Cronberg MEP is the chair of the European Parliament Iran delegation
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