Cooperating closely with the US, the EU has imposed tough new sanctions on Iran, apparently throwing it off-balance, although not persuading it to give up its nuclear ambitions.
The EU played a significant role in diplomacy to contain Iran’s nuclear programme in 2010, although often in tandem with the Obama administration (see component 37). As an increasing number of Israeli and US analysts called for military action against Iran, European governments – led by France, Germany and the UK – have stood by their long-standing goal of a diplomatic solution. The EU did not play a comparable part in diplomacy on North Korea’s proliferation activities – but it has never had a strong hand in this area, and Pyongyang’s erratic and aggressive behaviour made diplomatic engagement difficult for all actors (see component 9).
At the start of the year, it seemed possible that the EU might also lose traction on the Iranian issue, as the US took the lead in the drive for a new sanctions resolution at the UN. European powers were also unable to dissuade Brazil and Turkey from a quixotic effort at outreach to Iran in May. But the EU regained prominence after the Security Council passed Resolution 1929 mandating new sanctions in June. In July, member states announced a genuinely severe set of measures against Tehran. In December, High Representative Catherine Ashton was the lead negotiator in talks with Iranians in Geneva.
Although these discussions did not generate any immediate results (other than further talks in January 2011) analysts have concluded that Iran was temporarily thrown off-balance by the strength of the new sanctions and that Iran was, at the end of 2010, further from a nuclear weapon than previously believed. Although the US has taken primary credit for this diplomatic success, the EU’s united front and the willingness of major European corporations such as Siemens to disengage from Iran helped give its diplomacy teeth. But, however much pressure it faces, Iran still appears to be set on developing a nuclear weapon