The European Union’s (EU) latest decision to accept a new set of sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran obviously seems yet another endeavour towards halting the nation’s much contentious nuclear programme. This decision was arrived upon during a June 17, 2010 Summit at Brussels attended by the EU government chiefs.
The restrictions will act in addition to the recent sanctions against Iran by the UN Security Council. According to EU spokesperson Maja Kocijancic, the sanctions were given approval during the EU summit, primarily aiming to target usage of dual-use items and Iranian oil and gas industry—including the ‘prohibition of new investment, technical assistance and transfers of technologies.’ The EU has settled upon banning Iranian shipping and air cargo companies from operations within EU air space and territorial waters. Besides new visa bans, freezing of assets controlled by state companies and private firms of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) appears imminent. The steps undertaken by the EU are in concurrence with that of the UN so as to dislocate, primarily, the flow of money to the IRGC.
The present ceiling is in conjunction with the UNSC as well as measures undertaken by Washington to target trade insurance and financial transactions of Iran. The role of the EU and especially the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) in providing a resolution to the Iranian nuclear crisis did emerge crucial in the past. Comprehensive interpretation of this statement could well mean that the EU-3 emerged as a key strategic player towards breaking the impasse and engaging Tehran towards dialogue, notwithstanding the fact that it did not meet with much success.
Even though the US and the EU share profound congruence in transatlantic security issues assuming strategic significance, there comes into view a visible conflict regarding the ensuing strategies to be implemented, especially when determining ways to resolve these issues are concerned. The Iranian case can be a vital example in this regard. The EU-3 firmly maintains that beyond sanctions, a multilateral dialogue would indeed be essential—demonstrated by the European Council-Iran Trade Cooperation Agreement as well as by the EU-Iran political dialogue. As far as the EU-3 is concerned, there is no viable alternative to the Iranian nuclear quandary other than a negotiated agreement supported by the IAEA and UN Security Council, and that the conflict not necessarily pertains to that of ‘regime change’. This can be ascertained by a recent statement by EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, stating that doors remain open for negotiations with Tehran whilst inviting Tehran’s representative on the nuclear issue, Saeed Jalili, for deliberations over the same.
On the other hand, Tehran has dismissed the impact of the sanctions outright. Nevertheless, it would be prudent to argue that the fresh set of sanctions imposed by the EU shall make negotiations trickier given the present politico-economic equations. According to Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for European Affairs, Ali Ahani, the EU sanctions would only further complicate the path for new talks with Tehran underlining that it would be the European companies that shall be the main victims of the latest European sanctions policy. While speaking to the Munich-based daily, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Ahani said that Tehran would soon respond to the letter of Catherine Ashton, articulating inclination for a fresh round of negotiations between the two.
During the course of the next two months, legal and technical experts of the EU are likely to zero in on the Iranian agencies/companies on whom these sanctions are to be levied. Given the fact that each specific EU nation has a distinct relationship with Tehran, the present situation is likely to get even thornier. Going by recent figures of 2010, Iran’s annual trade with the 27 EU countries touches $ 30 billion. In specific, France, Italy and Germany have constituted as Iran’s key European trading partners. Furthermore, energy resources such as oil, natural and liquefied gas and refined hydrocarbons account for 90 percent of Iranian exports to the EU—thus adding a significant dimension to the existing complexity. Additionally, Tehran’s imports from Europe include engineering and manufacturing goods, transportation equipment, and industrial and chemical products.
It could be stated in unambiguous terms that even though the EU chooses to play by the rules of global realpolitik and push Iran into a corner by virtue of aligning with the US and the UN, an equally reinforcing reality is that the EU does seem keen at keeping its ‘strategic leverage’ alive in the given case owing primarily to the economic and energy ties that its member-states hold with Iran.
The author presently is a Visiting Professor and Associate Director of Studies (Directeur d'études associé) at the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, PARIS, FRANCE.
(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the views either of the Editorial Committee or the Centre for Land Warfare Studies).