On Thursday (11 January), the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the Foreign Ministers of Britain, France and Germany met with the Iranian Foreign Minister.
The meeting of Foreign Ministers in Brussels was held at a crucial juncture. This week, the nuclear agreement with Iran is again under scrutiny. The US President is due to decide whether he will again certify Iranian compliance with the agreement before Congress. At the same time, various controversial issues unrelated to the nuclear agreement are overshadowing the decision. Renewed sanctions by the US Administration can also not be ruled out.
Key component of national security
The situation is currently a balancing act for the Europeans. Clearly, the nuclear agreement (also known as the Vienna nuclear agreement (JCPoA)) has increased security in the Middle East.
Furthermore, it represents a major success of nuclear non proliferation and is a key building block of the global non proliferation architecture. For European countries, upholding the agreement is a key component of national security.
The EU thus continues to back the agreement as long as Iran in turn continues to comply with its obligations. Foreign Minister Gabriel made this plain prior to the meeting:
We firmly believe that the nuclear agreement needs to be upheld. It is in the European interest. It is in the international community’s interest. If the only agreement that has prevented a region from developing nuclear weapons were to be sunk now, it would be a devastating signal for all others.
For Gabriel, the abandoning of the agreement would be a very bad signal, above all with a view to North Korea. Thus, the Foreign Ministers also called upon the Allies to help ensure the agreement prevails.
Need to communicate
At the same time, the political landscape surrounding the nuclear agreement is proving to be difficult terrain. Foreign Minister Gabriel made plain that there were topics which required urgent discussion with Iran which were unrelated to the agreement itself. The human rights situation and not least the recent demonstrations in Iran are a source of major concern for the EU Foreign Ministers. Gabriel underscored the European position: “We firmly believe that there has to be freedom to demonstrate”. But also in terms of foreign policy, Iran’s role in the region is “more than problematic”. For him, these are the topics which need to be dealt with while keeping the nuclear agreement separate. Politically, they are fields of action which are distinct from one another. On Thursday, the Foreign Ministers agreed to engage in close dialogue with Iran on these controversial issues.