In the second round of talks on Iran’s nuclear programme in November, the E3+3 overcame a brief moment of disunity to broker a historic agreement.
During the last decade, Europeans have been united behind the twin-track policy of dialogue with and sanctions against Iran in response to its nuclear programme. In 2013, following the election of Hassan Rouhani as Iranian president, this approach led to an unprecedented interim deal. Three rounds of negotiations were held in Geneva, led by High Representative Catherine Ashton. The second round ended without agreement after France challenged the anticipated deal and broke the E3+3’s confidentiality protocols by announcing that talks had failed. But the third Geneva meeting, a week later, produced an interim joint agreement in which Iran accepted France’s demand to suspend construction of the Arak nuclear facility. The E3+3 thanked Ashton for her role in brokering unity. Pursuant to the interim deal, the EU28 will suspend certain sanctions on Iran in January 2014.
The success in negotiations with Iran was a vindication of the EU’s twin-track approach, led by the E3, and in particular sanctions, which began to bite in 2013 and severely impacted Iran’s oil exports. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) annulled the decision of some member states to impose EU financial sanctions on Iranian companies incorporated in the EU. In response, member states took steps to re-impose sanctions against Iran’s main cargo-shipping line but delisted some entities.
However, Europeans did not substantially engage with Iran beyond the nuclear deal. For example, Europeans were conspicuously absent at Rouhani’s inauguration. Only Italy was forward-leaning in engaging with Iran (though the UK, which had shut down its embassy in Tehran in 2011, took a step towards normalising relations by appointing a reciprocal non-resident chargé d’affaires). A European Parliament delegation visited Iran in October to discuss the nuclear talks and regional issues. A separate trip in December by the EU parliamentary delegation engaged Iran in talks regarding its human rights policies and potential for expanded trade ties between Iran and the EU.