EU-Iran: Dialogue Against Ultimatums

by Eldar Mamedov

As the US issued its ultimatum to the EU on “fixing” the nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action or JCPOA), the European Parliament (EP) hosted Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs and National Security Committee of the Iranian parliament. Boroujerdi addressed the Foreign Affairs committee of the EP on January 23. The next day, together with his delegation, he engaged in detailed discussions with European counterparts on such topics of mutual interest as counter-terrorism, climate change, migration, and trade.

Although the discussion in the committee was at times tough, even the critical MEPs voiced their support for the JCPOA as it stands. They basically backed the consensus view of the EU that other issues of concern, such as Iran’s ballistic missiles program and regional policies must not be linked to the implementation by all sides of their JCPOA-related commitments. The suggestions of the EU3—France, Germany and Great Britain—that these issues could nevertheless be brought up to ensure that the US remains within the JCPOA were not reflected in the discussion.

After clearing away the point on the JCPOA, MEPs then challenged Boroujerdi on the missiles. As other Iranian officials have done, he conveyed Tehran’s position that the missiles program is an existential element of Iranian deterrence against external threats and not a violation of the UN Security Council resolution 2231 dealing with the subject. Given the overwhelming advantage that Iran’s regional foes,such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Israel have over Iran in terms of conventional weapons, no unilateral concessions from Iran are possible on this point. Significantly, this position is no different from the one voiced by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. This confirms that the missile issue is not one of “moderates versus hardliners” in Iran but a consolidated national position, and the only realistic way to address it is to discuss it within a broader regional context.

At the same time, the Iranian delegation was exposed to the depth of the European commitment to the right of Israel to exist securely. As the debate in the committee showed, it cannot be reduced to the activity of the pro-Israel lobby alone. Given the legacy of the Holocaust, this commitment is deeply ingrained in European political and social culture, across the political spectrum. Were Iran to reduce its provocative anti-Israeli rhetoric, explicitly distance itself from any form of Holocaust denial, and eschew “death to Israel” slogan would go a long way toward normalizing the perception of the Islamic Republic in Europe. What Iran gains with this kind of rhetoric in the Arab world, to which most of it is directed, it loses in terms of its image and prestige in Europe.

Boroujerdi’s visit, however, was not focused solely on traditional hard security-related issues, and herein lies its added value. Migration from the war-torn zones, for example, has evolved into one of the major concerns of the European public. Yet little is known in Europe of the scale of the Iranian effort in hosting the Afghan refugees and providing them with education, healthcare, and a path to integration into Iranian society. Although the EU has modestly increased its financial assistance to Iran in this regard, the Iranians rightly argue that it is in the European interest to do more: the lack of proper conditions in Iran would increase the risk of illegal migration and radicalization, both of which would affect European security as well.

Another issue that was discussed was the effects of climate change and environmental protection. The scarcity of water is a strategic threat for Iran. Less precipitation and inadequate water management mean that Iran is literally drying up fast. The tragic fate of Lake Urmiye in the north of the country is an evidence of this. Its shrinking provokes salt storms that affect nearby populations, including in Tabriz, a major city.

Sand storms pose another challenge, especially for Iran’s western provinces. The air pollution in cities like Ahwaz has reached truly alarming proportions. Since sand storms mostly originate in neighboring countries, tackling them would require regional cooperation.

Notably, Iranians mentioned this area as one in which cooperation with Saudi Arabia would be both desirable and necessary, since partly those storms originate in Saudi territory bordering Iraq. The EU and Iran will shortly sign a memorandum of understanding on environment and climate change, along ,with a road map and concrete projects to tackle these issues. This would be one area where the EU could put its regional approach to the Middle East in practice.

Ultimately, the real significance of Boroujerdi’s visit to Brussels was twofold. First, in its scope and scale, the visit establishes the most ambitious precedent of Europeans engaging directly with a representative of the conservative principlist faction of the Iranian political spectrum whose worldview is probably the closest to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Beyond ample disagreements on different subjects, no sustainable progress in EU-Iran relations is feasible without having this part of the Iranian establishment on board. The EU should also bear in mind that, contrary to the narrative of a regime on its last legs, the principlists still enjoy the support of a significant portion of the Iranian population. Conversely, the meeting also served to enlarge the pro-engagement constituency on the EU side beyond its traditional centre-left core.

Second, the timing of the meeting in the EP was extremely useful in terms of intra-European politics. At a time when some EU member states show dangerous signs of willingness to appease Trump over the JCPOA, many senior MEPs sent a clear message that they view the incipient engagement with Iran as in European interest. The diversity of views expressed on the EU side should encourage the non-E3 EU nations with a strong track record of engaging Iran, such as Italy or Sweden, to step up their game.

This article reflects the personal views of the author and not necessarily the opinions of the European Parliament. Photo: Alaeddin Boroujerdi.

Eldar Mamedov

Eldar Mamedov has degrees from the University of Latvia and the Diplomatic School in Madrid, Spain. He has worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia and as a diplomat in Latvian embassies in Washington D.C. and Madrid. Since 2007, Mamedov has served as a political adviser for the social-democrats in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament (EP) and is in charge of the EP delegations for inter-parliamentary relations with Iran, Iraq, the Arabian Peninsula, and Mashreq.



  1. I sincerely and desperately hope that this information is correct and that the EU does not risk such an important contribution to peace as the JCPOA because of USA intransigence and Israel’s needless concerns for its safety.

  2. Iran signed onto the Arab Peace Proposal which was ignored, and in 2003 Iran offered to recognize Israel in its faxed peace offer to the US which was ignored. The underlying assumption in this piece, that Israel is merely reacting to Iran and not itself the instigator and promoter of conflict for its own reasons (preventing any improved relations between the US and Iran is deemed contrary to Israeli interests, Trita Parsi’s book points out). So the assumption that if only Iran drops the rhetoric then Israel will stop pressing the US to impose regime-change in Iran, is just not believable.

    BTW tThe only people whose right to exist securely is being denied them, are the Palestinians, and at the hands of the Israelis.

    As David Morrison and Peter Oborne have pointed out in their book and articles, in 2005 Iran made the EU-3 a nuclear compromise offer that was perfectly acceptable and in accordance with international law but the US pressured the EU to ignore the offer and instead push for sanctions on Iran (despite the fact that Iran was in full compliance with actual NPT obligations.) The Eu buckled when faced with a choice of fighting the US and doing a deal with Iran, or just going along with Israel and the US sanctions and threats. They could have taken the US to court over the extraterritorial US sanctions being imposed on EU companies, just as EU courts themselves were striking down EU sanctions on Iran as illegal. But they didn’t (they only pressed back on Cuba sanctions.)

    There’s no reason to assume that the dynamics have changed and that the EU is now willing to stand-up to the US (but for Trumps election nothing has really changed and it is doubtful that will make a difference)

  3. Back in 1997 the Washington Post reported on US extraterritorial sanctions “European officials say the Helms-Burton Act, which inhibits trade with Cuba, and the D’Amato-Kennedy bill, which seeks to block deals with Iran and Libya, are intolerable forms of “American imperialism” because they seek to extend the reach of U.S. law to foreign nations. When the French energy company Total ignored U.S. warnings and signed a $2 billion contract to develop Iran’s natural gas fields, the French poke in the American eye was heartily applauded by other European partners who reject the idea of having the United States tell them where they can and cannot invest.”
    (“Even Allies Resent U.S. Dominance”, Washington Post, November 4, 1997 by William Drozdiak)

    Their resistance didn’t last very long, they buckled quickly and inevitably because the Europeans just aren’t willing to get into a trade war with the US over Iran. It would be foolish for Iran to rely on Europe today too.

  4. The US will probably tighten the financial screws on Europe and get its way, promoting a worsening Iran economy and regime change. But meanwhile, let’s not lose sight of some fundamental facts.
    (1) Iran favors regime change in Israel (AKA Death To Israel) because of Israel’s takeover of Palestine and the persecution of its people, which Europe seems oblivious to as Israel plays the holocaust card. The regime change that the US desires in Iran has no such basis.
    (2) The US-sponsored strategy of sanctioning Iran for its self-defense activities has no basis in law. Iran has no history of disturbing the peace by attacking other countries (again, as the US does). The UN Charter is clear: “The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.” But of course the US is more equal than others.
    (3) None of this is surprising to Iran. Oct 6, 2013: Khamenei: “Certainly, we are pessimistic about the Americans. We do not trust them. We consider the government of the United States of America as an unreliable, arrogant, illogical, and trespassing government, which is badly possessed and dominated by the international Zionist network. They are forced to appease the extorter and forged regime that has occupied Palestine to observe the illegitimate desires and interests of the international Zionist network. They ought to be flexible against it for the interests of the international Zionist network. . .”

  5. The objective is NOT to achieve peace. Military Industrial complex(MIC) is too powerful using POTUS as their agent in achieving their goals regardless of who’s in the WH! Their job is to sell arms and create wars to destroy arms and then sell even more with the help from their agents as retired and active generals, Congressmen, intelligence community and POTUS! EU has buckled under the MIC’s tremendous pressure in the past and it will buckle again!

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