23rd Sep 2020

No plans for EU embassy in Iran despite improving relations

  • Mural of Iran-Iraq war veteran in central Tehran (Photo: EUobserver)

The EU says it has no plans to open an embassy in Iran despite recent progress in nuclear talks.

An EU source said a possible first step would be to "embed" a diplomat from the European External Action Service (EEAS) at one of the existing 15-or-so EU countries' embassies in Tehran.

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But the EEAS has ruled out even this, for now.

It told EUobserver in a statement: "Neither the embedding of a diplomat nor opening a delegation are being considered at this stage. Any future decision on the opening of an EU delegation in Tehran would be taken in the light of a detailed political evaluation."

The EEAS line comes after the European Parliament urged it to go ahead.

It said last week in a resolution on EU foreign policy that it "reiterates notably its demand for the opening of an EU delegation in Iran."

Tarja Cronberg, a Finnish Green MEP who heads the parliament's delegation to Iran, added: "There is a window of opportunity for the EU to be seized in order to formulate its own policy towards Iran."

The negative EEAS statement also comes in the context of progress in the so-called E3+3 talks.

The E3+3 group - which is chaired by EEAS chief Catherine Ashton, and which includes senior officials from China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK and the US - is seeking assurances from Iran that it is not making a nuclear weapon.

It said after talks on 16 October that Iran's latest proposal is "substantive and forward looking."

Ashton described it as: "The most detailed that we have ever had, I would say, by a long way."

The Iranian embassy to the EU declined to answer if it would welcome an EU mission in Tehran at this stage.

But it said it has good day-to-day relations with Ashton's people in Brussels.

"There always have been talks between Iran and the EEAS. The EEAS is in fact the foreign service of the European Union and acts, more or less, like an EU ministry of foreign affairs. So, the embassy has regular contact with the EEAS for relations between Iran and the EU," an Iranian spokesman told this website.

The EU in 2002 already proposed embedding an EU representative, who would switch every six months from one member state's embassy to another's, in line with whoever held the bloc's rotating presidency at the time.

Iran said it wanted a fully-fledged EU mission or nothing.

But relations deteriorated on the nuclear issue and the EU envoy idea melted away.

Apart from the E3+3 and the EEAS, the German, Italian and Swedish embassies in Tehran are said to have the most contact with authorities.

But many European diplomats in Iran spend their time talking to each other because Iranian officials rarely agree to meet them.

In terms of EU interests, Iran is more than a potential security threat.

It is a potential ally for stabilising Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Syria.

It is also a potential market of 76 million highly educated people, which has oil and gas wealth and decent infrastructure, and which lies on the doorstep of European exporters.

EU sanctions on Iranian oil and banks have helped create inflation of between 100 percent and 300 percent, depending on the type of product.

During the last E3+3 talks, some Iranian people stopped buying expensive items for two days in the hope that a breakthrough would restore value to the money in their pockets.

The prospect of a reconciliation with Iran has its sceptics, however.

Israel's minister of intelligence, Yuval Steinitz, told British broadcaster, the BBC, on Thursday (31 October): "We do hope that the diplomatic process will succeed. If it does, we will be able to endorse it."

But he reserved the right to launch military strikes against Iran if Israel perceives an "existential" threat.

For his part, Daniel Schwammenthal, the Brussels director of a US-based lobby group, the American Jewish Committee, told EUobserver: "I believe before making such a gesture [posting an EU envoy], Iran would have to take some real steps to defuse the tensions over its nuclear programme."

"So far we have heard a lot of nice words, but no action yet," he added.

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