The Forum for Partners in Iran's Marketplace

October 2018, No. 89



Bonds that Connect Iran and Europe

I think Iran and Europe, for many reasons, have a wide range of complementary and similar interests.

Dr. Alireza Akbari, peacemaking and peacekeeping student at the UN International Peace Academy and deputy defense minister during the reform era, has examined the mutual importance of Europe and Iran for each other and the fate of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action after US withdrawal. Akbari believes that the importance of the JCPOA for the EU is essentially “security wise and strategic”, and that the economic factor can be the last and the lowest factor for Europe. 

Many believe that Europe wants the JCPOA survive due to economic reasons. But on the contrary, many others believe that the JCPOA has strategic and security benefits for Europe. What’s your opinion?

I believe strongly and firmly, and will prove my claim that the importance of JCPOA for the EU is essentially security related and strategic. The factor of economy can be the last and the weakest for Europe. As I explained about the status of the EU earlier, Europe is passing through a momentous situation. Economic issues are very important for the union, but this is not the whole truth! Yes, the European Union has a GDP of about 16 to 17 thousand billion dollars, has less than one third of the total volume of global trade, exports about $2 trillion and imports nearly $1.7 trillion, 20% ​​of its total exports go to the United States and about 20% of its total imports are from China. Therefore, it is just natural for the economy to be important for it.

The same Europe’s total volume of trade with the Islamic Republic of Iran is $25 billion tops. However, the volume of its trade with the United States is more than $700 billion, with a positive European balance of over $160-170 billion. The joint economic volume between the US and Europe is more than $3,200 billion. That means the US has made an investment of over $2,600 billion in Europe. The statistics tell any observer that “the issue of the JCPOA and Iran, for Europe, cannot be economically motivated.” What matters more to the European Union is the issue of “stability and persistence”: In other words, passing through geopolitical challenges; the challenge or the crisis of floods of migrants, which has become a security issue, the issue of extreme right and the question of secession.

Meanwhile, three high-security streams have added to the sensitivity of the strategic status of the EU. One, the inter-Atlantic divide caused by unilateralism and the aggressive foreign policy of the USA; secondly, the gradual expansionist tendencies of Russia both in the Eurasian region and the Middle East; and third, the question of possibility of widespread wars in the Middle East, which greatly highlights Iran’s role for the EU in the context of international security. The current trend in European-American relations, after Trump came into power, is highly volatile and unsustainable, based on a revision of previous covenants and interests. Trump not only breached social and environmental structures in relation with Europe but has also begun a trade war and heavy duty tariffs.

Trump not only breached social and environmental structures in relation with Europe but has also begun a trade war and heavy duty tariffs.

More importantly, the United States by pushing the European members of the NATO to increase their defense budget and membership share, has threatened to quit this important military-security alliance. This is an important indication that an inter-Atlantic gap in the security and defense spheres is likely to quickly spread. All of this evidence suggests that Europe is scared of a set of security incidents and developments. These security challenges are mainly due to the gap between the benefits and the different approaches of the United States and Europe. The heart of these challenges, which can turn to a live threat, beats in critical areas of the Middle East and North Africa. Europe assesses Iran’s role in the fate of these challenges as “important” and even “very important”. In this context, if the possibility of a collision between the powers of the Middle East, including Iran, increases and the conflict between Iran and the United States turns to hostility, Europe will see itself among a host of harms and security threats. That is why keeping the JCPOA alive is one of Europe’s priorities in order to prevent a more sensitive Middle East security environment. Europe also recognizes Iran’s effective role in preventing the spread of terrorism, even if it does not acknowledge this role. It is also Europe’s perception of Iran’s great part in maintaining strategic balance and stability of the security balance in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. All of these reasons are enough to prove that the importance of maintaining the JCPOA for Europe is security related not economic. 

What do you think is the best strategy for Iran in dealing with Europe, particularly at a time that the United States has come out of JCPOA?

Basically, the status of the interests and goals of both parties determines the status of their relations. I think Iran and Europe, for many reasons, have a wide range of complementary and similar interests. Therefore, they must have broad and solid relationships. I also believe that it is not Iran’s relations and strategies that should be affected by the JCPOA but rather the JCPOA and issues of this nature should be subject to and influenced by our strategy vis-a-vis the European Union. The JCPOA with all its importance and weight is a “situational” issue. Although its genus is “disarmament,” and disarmament issues particularly if they are of nuclear type are considered strategic but even in the strategic sphere, there are two categories of “structural” or “situational” issues.
The strategy of relations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the European Union, in terms of the weight and importance of geopolitical, strategic and geo-economical dimensions, falls in the category of strategic structural issues. While the issue of the JCPOA at most, is a “situational strategy” issue. In this regard, the principle of the strategy of relations between Iran and Europe overcomes the issue of “JCPOA and the EU”.

The main pillar is the strategy of relationships, and the issue of the JCPOA must be subject to the strategy. But the question is what should be the basic principles of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s strategy in relations with Europe?
In my opinion, the foundation of the strategy of relations between Iran and Europe should be based on the following three main pillars:

First, maximum amount of mutual understanding and empathy,

Second, development of all-out interaction,

Third, exchange of complementary capacities. 

Now that the United States has entered extremist unilateralism and has practically started a trade with China and Europe, what opportunities does Iran have to neutralize or at least minimize the US threats?

Looking at the volume of exchanges and mutual investment between China and the US, as well as the US and Europe, tells us that these three top economic powers are the largest trading partners of each other. We mentioned the figures on the European-American exchange at the beginning of our conversation. But, the volume of China-US exchanges is about $580 billion, and China’s positive balance is about $380 billion! Since the Trump presidency and the unilateral US approach, traditional tariff agreements have been subject to change. Despite all the efforts that the EU and China have had to negotiate with the US to stop a war on tariffs, Trump is determined to create a balance. An increase in tariffs on European and Chinese export goods to the US (including steel and aluminum) is the first American solution.

As a first step, Trump came out of the most important unions and commercial treaties of the Atlantic and Pacific jurisdictions. At the same time, Washington has already begun its tariff threats against China, Europe and even Canada. Yes, the US trading divide in the Atlantic and Pacific region is intensifying and is likely to become more intense. It is stressed that this confrontation is not a field for direct action of Iran, because the economic weight and requirements of the Islamic Republic of Iran would not allow such an impact, but it is a good opportunity for the interests of Iran to be aligned with the interests of China, Russia and the EU in the same direction.

The nature of the United States’ unilateral sanctions against the course of the JCPOA is precisely a problem that other global powers, including Russia, China, the European Union, India, and others regard as contrary to their own interests. The Chinese Foreign Ministry recently declared in a decisive position that it will not accept any unilateral sanctions against Iran because it is against international norms. This is exactly what Europe is afraid of: “The generalization and spread of the US internal norms to the international environment.” Of course, wherever the issue of interest is raised, there is the possibility of reconciliation. The volume of trade between the three major powers of the world (America, the European Union, and China) is so high that there is a possibility of an agreement and a compromise on a larger advantage whenever possible.

What are Iran’s scenarios if talks with Europe fail and Tehran quits the JCPOA?

The scenario or “alternative plan” must, in principle, serve the goals and interests and, of course, be within the framework of the goals. The goal of the Islamic Republic of Iran is to engage legally with the world and maintain its international relations based on recognized rights of the countries. The US is precisely pursuing the denial of these demands and the natural rights of Iran through withdrawal from the JCPOA and the revival of the sanctions.

It is important for Iran to continue to live up to the benefits of the JCPOA, especially the inclusive economic-political interaction with the world. Basically, Europe, China and Russia are unhappy with the unilateralism and aggressive approach of the United States, both in the political arena and the economic sphere. These three powers and even other great powers, such as India, are worried about the US aggressive and threatening approach, but the scope of the conflict of interest or the constraints of this lobby against Washington imposes a kind of cautious conservatism on them.

On the other hand, the Islamic Republic of Iran has its own choices. If the 4 + 1 does not take the necessary steps to keep up the JCPOA, then Iran will be able to design alternative scenarios in two positive and negative ways. If Iran were to be deprived of the benefits of the JCPOA, Tehran’s first choice would be to return to the “zero point of the JCPOA”. If the crippling sanctions resume and the three poles of power (Europe, Russia and China) do not use their authority to open the breathing space for Iran in the framework of their common interests, then there would remain no reason why Iran not to resume development of its nuclear technology. With the onset of the accelerated and widespread development of nuclear capability, political and strategic equilibrium will naturally evolve. In this case, the path of regional and international developments will continue to hit the crisis. Such conditions are not desirable even for the Islamic Republic of Iran, but the choices are limited. By using the leverage of the security balance in the region and increasing its strategic influence on the path to nuclear capability as well as the impact on the geo-economy of the region, Iran can hinder a favorable US economic security balance. This means increasing bargaining power.


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  October 2018
No. 89