Iran-Europe: Where will the Political Pendulum Swing?
Relations between Iran and Europe, particularly the three European giants France, Germany, and the United Kingdom (E3), which signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran in 2015, are steadily deteriorating due to the hostile actions of the Europeans in recent months. The Europeans have increased diplomatic pressure on Iran since last September, when nationwide unrest erupted in Iran. In this context, the execution of Iranian-British citizen Alireza Akbari for Western espionage only served as a catalyst.
In the latest hostile action by the E3, Germany summoned the Iranian ambassador for alleged human rights violations, following the example of France and Britain, which are now putting even more pressure on Iran under the pretext of defending human rights. This comes at a time when debate is intensifying in Europe over the classification of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization, further dampening hopes for a revival of the Iran nuclear deal.
When former US President Donald Trump designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization in 2019, there was widespread discontent in Europe over fears that the move would hinder the revival of the JCPOA under the next president. But in 2023, under intense pressure from Washington, the Europeans are already considering the possibility of classifying the IRGC as a terrorist organization, further confirming the Europeans’ dependence on the United States and their willingness to follow the White House. At the same time, however, the E3 has made it clear that they are reportedly open to a controversial move, even though negotiations on the JCPOA are still at zero. According to Fars News, Peter Stano, the E3’s senior foreign relations official, said that negotiations on the JCPOA are still ongoing.
But the ongoing hostility of the E3 has cast a long and dark shadow over these negotiations, if not stalled them altogether. According to experts, Europe has joined forces with the United States to exert strong pressure on the Iranians, forcing them to accept European, and by extension American, terms and positions. “Putting pressure on Iran to weaken Iran’s image in the world public opinion, alienating the country from its allies, limiting Iran’s role in regional and international issues and, in a word, “sidelining” Iran in foreign policy are the main goals that the three European countries are pursuing together with the United States,” Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency said rather accurately. According to that agency, the United States is also seeking to extract maximum concessions from Iran in future nuclear negotiations, if they take place at all.
Rising tensions between Iran and the West in general have also raised questions about what might happen next. Observers believe that the current state of affairs between the two sides is not moving in the direction of de-escalating relations and negotiations, and that a possible increase in tensions could at some point dash the last remaining hopes of reviving the JCPOA. Therefore, the West needs to think about the consequences of its steps toward Iran, especially after sending some kind of signal that it is “ready to resume the agreement.”
The West responded to Iran’s repeated calls for diplomacy in the talks with sanctions and threats. Russia’s representative to international organizations in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, pointed to the West’s disinterest in the JCPOA negotiations. “The best way to prevent negative developments in the region would be to conclude negotiations on the JCPOA in Vienna. A breakthrough in this area could lower tensions and pave the way for a re-energized regional security dialogue. Clearly, Western countries are not prepared for this,” he said on social media.
With Germany pushing for new sanctions against Iran, talks in Vienna on renewing the shaky 2015 Iran agreement now face new obstacles. Experts believe Germany’s hasty action could unintentionally derail the talks. Commenting on the issue, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Berlin and Brussels are considering whether to blame the IRGC after Germany criticized Iran for its handling of weeks of unrest. Baerbock told ARD television, “I made it clear that we will impose another package of sanctions, that we will consider how we can also put the Revolutionary Guard on the list of terrorist organizations.”
Interestingly enough, these remarks came a few days after the German foreign minister issued a statement promising a fresh start in relations with Iran. At the same time, however, she stressed, “There can be no ‘business as usual’ in our bilateral relations with a state that treats the lives of its citizens with such contempt.” She added, “The last few weeks have been used for intensive efforts to critically review the few remaining instruments in the areas of trade and finance, including the business relations that still exist with Iranian banks. Where bilateral dialog is still ongoing, for example in the areas of economics and energy, we will suspend it. The same applies to German cultural institutions and teachers working in Iran – we will significantly reduce their presence.” In general, German policy and especially the foreign minister’s policy toward Iran is quite difficult to understand and to assess correctly – Berlin wants to draw good dividends from the few remaining economic relations with Tehran on the one hand and has to submissively bow to Washington on the other. One wonders how Berlin will manage to walk safely on the political blade of the Iranian-American knife.
It is only natural that Germany, which has taken the lead in defining the role of the IRGC, should complicate the talks in Vienna, because the IRGC issue was and continues to be one of the most pressing issues in the nuclear talks. Furthermore, this issue prevented the promised economic benefits envisioned for Iran in the JCPOA, which were presented by the US as a kind of “carrot.” Earlier in the talks, a proposal was made to avoid the US’s “definition of the IRGC” and its role in Iranian domestic and foreign policy. However, neither party has yet agreed to the proposal, and the issue is expected to be resolved when negotiations resume at a later date.
While the Vienna talks are stalled for a variety of reasons, European and US sanctions against the IRGC will be another impediment to the resumption of the JCPOA, if not the end of the negotiations themselves. Aside from complicating the talks, Iran will almost certainly retaliate by designating the IRGC as an official state institution. In a press release, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani stated that declaring the IRGC a terrorist organization is illegal: “The remarks of German officials about the decision to sanction the IRGC are a continuation of the irresponsible actions of these [European] countries toward the Islamic Republic of Iran and spring from their wrong attitude toward the Iranian nation and government.” He added, “The IRGC is Iran’s official military organization, and such a move is illegal. We hope the German government and other states will take note of their unconstructive actions and refrain from sacrificing their bilateral interests to temporary political interests and emotional decisions.”
Iran is not willing to back down from its position on the IRGC and warns that the European Union would “shoot itself in the foot” if it declared the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization. “We have repeatedly stated that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is an official and sovereign organization whose role is central to Iran’s security,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said during a phone conversation with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell, adding, “Steps taken by the European Parliament to list the organization as terrorist are in a way a shot in the foot of Europe itself.”
There is little to add to this view of Tehran, because it is the Iranians who want to settle all relations with the West and bring peace to this turbulent region of the world. The West, led by the US, relies, as always, only on brute force, sanctions and cheap deceit in negotiations with the other side, in this case Iran.