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Negotiating with Europe, now and then

By Kaveh Afrasiabi | Press TV | December 3, 2013

Can Europe be trusted? Certainly, this is an important question on the mind of many Iranians, in light of the surprise news that a precious few days after signing the Geneva agreement on November 24th, the European Union (EU) imposed new sanctions on Iran, by targeting 17 Iranian shipping companies, decried by Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson as “illegal.”

Per the terms of the Geneva agreement, the “5 + 1” nations have agreed not to impose any new sanctions on Iran for the duration of this “interim agreement” that stipulates a six-months timeline for negotiating a final status agreement, subject to further extension by both sides’ consent.

It therefore comes as a shocking surprise to many people both inside and outside Iran that instead of moving to ease the sanctions, the most immediate European follow-up action has been the intensification of the Iran sanctions. There is no valid justification for this move, which clearly contradicts both the letter and the spirit of the Geneva agreement, reflecting instead a counter-productive and obstructionist tendency on the part of the European officials, who may be addicted to Iran-bashing and find it rather difficult to re-track themselves toward the unknown territory of “Iran detente.”

But, of course, the Geneva agreement is in Europe’s own interest, seeing how over the past 8 years the continent’s once thriving trade with Iran has languished, which can be resurrected as a result of good-faith diplomacy toward Iran in the weeks and months to come. Already, there are reports of various European auto and other companies embracing the positive development in Geneva and preparing themselves to re-engage with Iran, awaiting clear policy guidelines by the EU so that their present concerns regarding the prohibitions on doing business with Iran are fully addressed.

Henceforth, it is vitally important for the EU officials not to drag their feet on implementing the terms of the Geneva agreement; otherwise, some provisions such as those with respect to the easing of the sanctions affecting the European insurance companies would not be implemented in a timely fashion, thus resulting in a partial lack of the fulfillment of sanctions’ relief promised by the West.

Unfortunately, the history of Europe’s nuclear negotiations with Iran during the past decade leaves a lot to be desired, warranting a healthy Iranian skepticism. Case in point, exactly nine years ago, the EU3 (i.e. France, Germany, and England) signed an agreement with Iran, the so-called Paris Agreement in November 2004, that was hailed in the Western media as a “major breakthrough” and raised the expectation for an end to the Iranian nuclear standoff.

One key element of the Paris Agreement was, as this author pointed out in a New York Times report back then, its recognition of “Iran’s rights under the NPT standards… without discrimination.” Naturally, Iran fully expects the same willingness on the part of Western governments to acknowledge and respect Iran’s full nuclear rights including the right to possess a peaceful nuclear fuel cycle (via an indigenous uranium enrichment program), which was expressly mentioned in the Paris Agreement.

Sadly, as this author has fully documented in his book, Iran’s Nuclear Program: Debating Facts versus Fiction (2006), the Europeans ended up reneging on their promises in the Paris Agreement, by failing to provide the promised incentives and, worse, by reversing themselves on Iran’s enrichment rights under pressure by the US, which was opposed to this aspect of the agreement from the outset.

As a result, none of the “objective guarantees” regarding technical, nuclear, and other cooperation with Iran, as well as the promise of regional security cooperation, ever materialized, thus setting the stage for the agreement’s subsequent breakdown, fully blamed on Iran by the hypocritical European officials, who consistently failed to direct their criticisms at their own shortfalls.

This was interpreted as an example of bad-faith negotiation and “broken promises” by, among others, Iran’s envoy to the United Nations at the time, current Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in a seminal article in Columbia University’s journal of international affairs.

In the light of the above-said, the important question is, of course, whether or not the Geneva agreement is destined to have the same fate as the Paris Agreement? Lest we forget, the West’s failure to accept blame for the breakdown of the Paris Agreement played a crucial role in the dispatching of Iran’s nuclear file to the UN Security Council and the subsequent imposition of several rounds of UN sanctions on Iran, despite the absence of any formal and proper finding of “non-compliance” by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Drawing lessons from the past, the history of incoherent and contradictory European behavior after signing the Paris Agreement mentioned above is a fresh reminder of the potential perils facing the Geneva agreement, which can easily derail it absent the political will on the part of EU officials and lawmakers to withstand the avalanche of anti-Iran pressure, some of which stems from certain governments in the region.

As a result, from Iran’s vantage point, the Western governments’ full compliance with the terms of the Geneva agreement is a must, which, as stated above, requires the issuance of new policy guidelines with respect to the easing of sanctions cited in the agreement.

Following the agreement, a joint commission consisting of officials from Iran and the “5 + 1” nations will be formed shortly to oversee the simultaneous implementation of the pledges made by both sides and to resolve any potential problems in this connection. Only then can full Iranian confidence in Europe’s good-faith negotiation be restored and the troubled Iran-EU relations gradually heal.

For now, however, the news of new EU sanctions in the aftermath of the Geneva agreement is simply a fresh log to the Iranian collective memory of past European behavior (of broken promises and reneged contracts), yet another reminder that the the continent’s policy-makers continue to be infected by the legacy of Euro-centric post-colonialism, requiring a cognitive leap forward, presently held at bay by the lingering distortions of what the late Edward Said aptly labeled as “Orientalism.”

With the EU policy on Iran clearly showing the traces of “Orientalism,” the path forward in Iran-EU relations must be explored on all levels, including at the normative and cognitive level, given the ‘cognitive dissonance’ of contradictory behavior toward Iran mentioned above.

Europe’s failure to resolve this problem will undoubtedly affect their level of commitment to their own pledges reflected in the Geneva agreement and thus set the stage for a policy vicious circle regarding Iran. It is time for Europe to break the spell of this vicious circle and demonstrate a collective evolution, following the norms of international affairs in showing respect and reciprocity to the nation of Iran, a cradle of world civilization.

December 3, 2013 - Posted by | Deception, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , ,

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