zarif iran (L aPresse)

Europe Steps up Mediator Role in US-Iran Conflict

With the United States and Iran on an ongoing collision course since the assassination of General Qasem Soleimani and the nuclear deal seemingly worth nothing more than useless paper, Europe finally appears to be trying to fill in the vacuum and play its role of a mediator between the global and regional power. 

EU Rep Tries To Ease US-Iran Tensions

Europe is certainly trying, in any case. Last week the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell touched down in Iran. During the two-day visit, the top diplomat met President Hasan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani for discussions ranging from the regional issues to the nuclear deal. 

Ever since President Trump moved into the White House and began pursuing his campaign against the Islamic Republic—beginning with unilateral revocation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—Europe has increasingly come into the spotlight to take a leadership role. They want to help salvage the deal and prevent Tehran from pursuing a nuclear path. 

Sanctions Against Iran Are Taking A Heavy Toll

From Iran’s point of view, much of that salvaging meant coming in the form of increasing trade, investments and being able to sell its oil. But good things have been hard to come by, as Washington unleashed sanctions on not only Tehran but also those engaging in business with it. As a result, the country’s economy suffered a massive blow with growth rate tanking down close to a negative 9.5% in 2019. 

As economic prospects from the JCPOA have failed to deliver any results, Iran has become visibly frustrated. Hints of that came in November last year when it stopped an inspector of the International Atomic Energy Agency from visiting a nuclear site and injected uranium gas into the Fordo plant. Then on Jan. 6, the country said it would scrap limits on enriching uranium and, just two weeks ago, a bill was presented in the parliament that called for exiting the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a whole.

Needless to say, the message was heard loud and clear in the European Union. The EU’s three key members, France, Germany and the UK, triggered a dispute mechanism in mid-January which—if not resolved within 15 days—could see the matter landing at the United Nations.  

Borrell Assures Tehran That EU Will Work To Avoid Further Sanctions

That was one of the key issues that Borrell tried to diffuse during his visit where he ensured Tehran that the “EU will extend indefinitely the time limit to resolve disputes in the Iran 2015 nuclear accord to avoid having to go to the UN Security Council or triggering new sanctions.” Later in a presser, Borrell again signaled Brussels’ desire to keep the deal alive and continue engagement.  

While Tehran has lately rolled back on the nuclear front, the move is nowhere near permanent, as it yet again expressed intention to go back to the negotiating table. “The Islamic Republic of Iran is still fully ready to interact and cooperate with the European Union to settle issues and whenever the other side lives up to its commitments completely, Iran is ready to return to its commitments,” its statement at the meeting’s conclusion noted. 

Next Meeting Between EU And Iran Set For March

The two sides are also expected to meet again in March at the EU-Iran High-Level Dialogue where a range of issues will be discussed including political, security, human rights, trade, migration and a financial envelope of €150 million. From the looks of it, Borrell is on a mission of serious engagement as he has been corresponding with all regional players including the Saudi and Emirati foreign ministers. In fact, the Iran trip came just after the European diplomat’s visit to Jordan where he met King Abdullah. 

The list doesn’t end here, as the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy went to Washington, the first visit since he took this role. Here he had a meeting with Secretary Mike Pompeo with a number of issues on the agenda and briefed Pompeo on his recent trip to Iran. 

Taking the helm of Brussels foreign policy just in December, Borrell seems to be proactive on most matters of international importance. Not only has he called for dialog and reiterated EU’s commitment to it, the diplomat has at the same time shown independence in judgment and policy as evident by his criticism of the US’s peace plan. But in the case of Iran whose economy is being crippled by sanctions, it will be tough for Borrell to deliver relief leaving slim chances of the JCPOA’s survival.