Tuesday

19th Feb 2019

EU and US at odds over Iran's role in Syria

  • Mural on wall of former US embassy in Tehran (Photo: kamshots)

EU diplomats disagree with the US and Israel on whether Iran should join a Contact Group on Syria.

UN emissary Kofi Annan last week called for the formation of a body akin to the one which steered events in the Balkans in the 1990s or the one formed last year on Libya.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

An EU source told this website it should have an "inner circle" of five or six big powers - such as the EU, Russia, Turkey and the US - and an "outer circle" of 15-or-so other countries.

Its main tasks would be to stop the violence and to prepare for the day after President Bashar Assad falls.

The source said that without a post-Assad plan, the country risks becoming a "black hole" the way Iraq did after the US removed Saddam Hussein.

EU countries are currently holding talks on whether to call for Iran's inclusion.

For its part, the US says it should be kept out because it is helping Assad - its main ally in the region - to massacre his own people.

"Iran has not demonstrated to date a readiness to contribute constructively to a peaceful political solution," America's UN ambassador, Susan Rice, said last week.

The US is in a de facto state of war with Iran since 1979, when Iranian revolutionaries stormed the US embassy in Tehran. They have no diplomatic relations.

It is also Israel's enemy number one.

"It is naive to think Iran will play a constructive role [in the group]," a former Israeli intelligence chief told press and diplomats at a recent meeting in Brussels.

Several EU diplomats interviewed by EUobserver said Iran will be vital in getting Assad's security forces to play a part in a future transitional government, however.

"They do not want to see a years-long civil war, involving hostile Islamic radicals, on their doorstep," one contact said.

"It's hard to imagine [US secretary of state Hilary] Clinton sitting down with Iran to talk about the future of Syria. But in the wider picture, is a political solution in Syria possible without Iran?" another EU source noted.

'Cloaked in irrationality'

For her part, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton has had a taste of Iranian diplomacy in her role as chief negotiator in the Iran nuclear talks.

Commenting on how hard it was to agree a meaningful agenda for the nuclear meeting in Moscow on Monday (18 June), a member of her team said: "Its behaviour is sometimes very rational, but cloaked in irrationality."

Iran likes to keep the EU in the dark.

An EU diplomat based in Tehran said Iranian officials refuse to meet him: "EU diplomats in Iran basically talk to each other."

But the two sides have functional day-to-day relations.

The French, German and Swedish embassies in Tehran cultivate EU business interests. An EU diplomat in Afghanistan - a massive source of heroin - said: "Iran is doing more than Europe to stop drugs getting into Europe."

'What are you bringing?'

The price of making friends could be big: assurances that the West will not pursue regime change in Iran; legitimisation of its role as a regional power; no oil sanctions.

One senior official in Ashton's service predicted the US will get its way. "I don't think it will be possible to include them in the Contact Group," he said.

But for his part, the Tehran-based EU diplomat said the EU's open door with Iran is an important asset.

"It concerns the EU's post-Lisbon role in the world," he noted, referring to the Lisbon Treaty, which created Ashton's diplomatic corps in order to give the Union more collective influence.

"When you sit around the top table with the UN Security Council countries, the question is what are you bringing? The EU can bring its partnerships, the fact that it can talk to everybody," he said.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  2. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  3. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  5. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  7. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  8. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups

Latest News

  1. EU says Hungary's anti-Juncker campaign is fake news
  2. Trump right for once: Europe should take back foreign fighters
  3. EU should clarify rules for plant burgers and lab meat
  4. Italian populists could be second biggest force in EU parliament
  5. Merkel defends Russia ties, ridicules Trump on cars
  6. British MPs condemn Facebook CEO's misrule
  7. EU's chance to step up on Hungary and Poland
  8. ESA pushback against new EU space agency plan

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us