Europe’s Iranian Imperative

MADRID – Last month, with the world’s attention fixed on the crisis in Crimea and the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, the latest round of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 (the United States, China, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom, plus Germany) passed quietly in Vienna. Even with discussions set to continue next week, the talks’ outcome remains far from certain – and world leaders cannot afford to become distracted.

This is especially true for Europe, whose unified approach to Iran has been invaluable up to this point. Indeed, it was the bite of European sanctions that ultimately brought Iran to the negotiating table, and the force of unified European diplomacy facilitated the “joint plan of action,” which set out the terms for reaching a comprehensive long-term agreement within six months.

But now, at the plan’s halfway point, there has been little concrete progress, with last month’s negotiations producing no headway on two key issues being discussed: the acceptable level for uranium enrichment in Iran and the future of the heavy-water reactor at Arak. The sharp contrast between this lack of achievement and Iran’s recent declarations about reaching a final deal by July raises important questions about Iran’s strategy and goals – questions that negotiators must consider carefully when determining the best approach.

The key to success is the background against which the process plays out. Iran is a land of contrasts. On a recent visit organized by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), the coexistence of entrenched tradition and rapid transformation was starkly apparent.