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Nuclear Talks: What about Europe?

As the nuclear talks with Iran move towards the six month Joint Plan of Action (JPA) timeline, all of the talk is about the United States and Iran. But Europe is a major player.

Two new European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) publications recommend how and why Europe should maximise the chances of a diplomatic solution, including if talks need to be extended beyond July.

 In a policy memo, ECFR visiting fellow Aniseh Bassiri Tabrizi suggests that at this stage in the six-month JPA nuclear deal between Iran and major world powers, fears that this interim deal would  lead to the unravelling of the sanctions regime and a European commercial rush back into the Iranian market, have not been realised. Tabrizi however warns that the opposite may be the case - that Europe’s difficulties in even making good on some of the limited concessions granted under the JPA risks undermining Rouhani’s domestic standing, his ability to showcase the benefits of reaching a nuclear deal and subsequently negotiating flexibility could be weakened, and Iranian confidence that de-sanctioning can happen. This could negatively impact the nuclear talks. (Linked here).  

 ECFR policy fellow, Ellie Geranmayeh, in a separate policy brief argues that a final nuclear deal would advance Europe’s interests both on the non-proliferation front and in opening new channels for addressing regional conflicts and security concerns with Iran, including on Syria. If a deal is agreed, Europeans can play a key role in implementing it. In the more likely event of the existing JPA needing to be extended to give negotiators more time, then European deliverables may be necessary in exchange for Iran continuing its JPA commitments. At the same time Europe should devise a damage limitation plan in case of a breakdown caused by the these stumbling blocks of hardliners in Tehran or US Congress.

 Geranmayeh outlines four broad trajectories that could shape the future of the nuclear talks and recommends how Europe should react in each: (1) a settlement is reached by the interim deal deadline; (2) the interim deal needs to be extended; (3) US Congress blocks implementation of a final deal; and (4) negotiations derail. In the third scenario, she argues that Europe should pursue its own interests and recommends that if Tehran shows commitment to diplomacy and to the agreements reached, Europe should attempt to salvage negotiations by taking a more independent line on Iran through altering the scope of its unilateral sanctions and working to ring-fence European entities from the secondary impact of US sanctions. (Linked here).

May 21, 2014