Dr Walter Posch, Senior Research Fellow, EU Institute for Security Studies
Special for Trend
The EU's engagement with Iran, which actually includes issue like Energy Security and Human Rights also, is for some years now dominated by Iran's nuclear issue. The EU does not deny Iran's right for peaceful nuclear energy, and unlike the US it never aimed at a military solution, however it also made it clear to the Islamic Republic that it sees a nuclear weapons capability of the Islamic Republic as inacceptable. As it is now, several offers have been made to the Islamic Republic (in 2005, 2006 and recently 2008) in which Iran's need for peaceful nuclear energy are addressed. The 2005 offer was basically an EU offer the packages of 2006 and 2008 are offers with the explicit support of the US, Russia and China. In order to start negotiations the international community represented by the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany) represented by the EU's Javier Solana offers a "freeeze for freeze" approach to Iran which means the International community "freezes" its sanctions and IRan its nuclear enrichment. Technicalities of the negotiations aside the main question is that of trust, as the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security policy, Javier Solana has said. Iran's insistence on uranium enrichment, which can be the first step for a weapons programme, raises doubt over the Islamic Republic's further intentions. The question is now how does Teheran react. As it is always with Iranian foreign policy an inward looking nationalist and highly ideological political faction opposes a politically realist one, the latter is largely identified with the reformist camp. Until now Tehran could have it both ways which means it negotiated but at the same time proceeded with its programme. This worked fairly well from the viewpoint of Iranian factionalism as in a certain way the suggested policies of both sides were followed. This time however Tehran has a unique opportunity as the current offer is supported by the P5+1 and the US have indicated they are interested in finding a diplomatic solution for the nuclear crisis. If Tehran rejects now even the freeze for freeze approach, then the international community will have no other means but to proceed with sanctions, which most likely will aim at Iran's financial sector and at certain enterprises related to Iran's power holders. These sanctions may not impress the regime in the short run, because Iranians compare economic hardship caused by sanctions to their experience during the war years. The EU and the P5+1 are not keen in imposing sanctions for the sake of sanctions; rather sanctions are imposed in order to underpin the credibility of the International Community. Therefore they can easily be reverted as soon as there are positive signals from Tehran. This approach has been spearheaded by the EU which took a intermediate position between that of the US (aggression) and the one of Russia and China (appeasement) towards Iran. As things stand now, the EU has achieved quite a lot in sofar as it secured diplomacy and the responsability of the international community to be the only way to deal wiht Iran's nuclear crisis. Today there is even a small chance for a US-Iranian rapprochement (otherwise the US would hardly have participated at the last meeting) which would hardly exist without the diplomatic efforts of the EU's indefatigable Solana. Tehran has always played on disunity and on frictions either between the West (US Europe) and the East (Russia, China, Non-Aligned Movement) or within the EU (E3 against the rest), however the offer from July 2008 and the current set of sanctions are the result of long and complicated negotiations within the Security Council and the EU, therefore EU unity and international solidarity in the positive (when Tehran accepts the offer) and in the negative way (when it rejects it) can be taken for granted. However, the circumstances for applying sanctions have changed. Sanctions are no unilateral EU sanctions but they are imposed by the International community via the security council. Politcally too the envirmont has changed as Teheran cannot count any longer on Russian and Chinese understanding, in fact Beijing and Moscow are increasingly frustrated with Tehran. But even traditional friends like India are cooling. Hence Tehran risks serious international isolation.
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