Saturday

3rd Dec 2016

EUobserved

The EU and the Iran 'deal of the century'

  • Ashton's moment came after five months of secret Iran-US diplomacy (Photo: European External Action Service - EEAS)

It ended with a hug. But the EU's new role in stopping decades of conflict in the Middle East has just begun.

The hug came from US secretary of state John Kerry for EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton in Geneva on 24 November, where she had just brokered a nuclear deal between six of the world's most powerful nations and Iran.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • The EU imposed its first-ever sanctions on Israeli settlements (Photo: DG Jones)

It helped transform her into a stateswoman with genuine gravitas.

Her moment came after five months of secret Iran-US diplomacy, which eased a 35-year-old confrontation between Washington and Tehran.

Israel's leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, dubbed it "the deal of the century."

He was being sarcastic. Israel, and some EU countries, believe Iran agreed to freeze its programme because it already has "breakout capacity" - enough knowhow and technology to make a weapon at short notice.

But Netanyahu's bombastic words fit the importance of the breakthrough.

The Middle East has been locked in conflict on two fronts: the Arab-Israeli war and Muslim sectarianism, which pits Sunni states like Saudi Arabia versus Shia countries like Iran, and which has cost tens of thousands of lives in Iraq and in Syria.

The US, Israel, Sunni states and EU countries used to be in league against what they called "the axis of evil."

But Geneva opens the door to a new Middle East in which Iran helps to end the war in Syria, in which Sunni hawks bow to Western pressure, and in which Israel is no longer free to undermine the two-state solution on Palestine.

The EU is no match for US hard power in terms of shaping events, but Ashton's foreign service is doing its bit to keep momentum going.

It is drafting plans to relax EU sanctions on Iran. It aims to launch co-operation with Iran on day-to-day issues, like drug smuggling. There is even talk of an EU embassy in Tehran.

The EU this year also imposed its first-ever sanctions on Israeli settlements.

Three days after Geneva, EU and Israeli negotiators agreed new rules on science grants which stop EU money from funding Israeli activity on occupied land.

The deal is a template for all future EU-Israel projects. It is also a wake-up call on the occupation.

"The Western world that is our frame of reference … says to us in word and deed that we will no longer be able to belong to it while continuing our control over another people," Ofer Shelah, a leading MP in Netanyahu's coalition, said.

.

The Middle East's old conflicts aside, the Arab Spring, which began with a self-immolation in Tunisia in 2010, has, over the past three years, seen Egypt, Libya, Mali, Syria and Yemen also go up in flames.

Despite military action in Libya and Mali and frantic shuttle diplomacy, EU countries and even the US have, for the most part, struggled to control the forces at play.

British historian David Hirst warned in 2012 that the region risks becoming "a giant failed state."

But a tweet by Ashton's spokesman at 3am in Geneva broke news to world media that an alternative future is possible: "#EU High Rep #Ashton: 'We have reached agreement between E3+3 and Iran'."

This article was printed in EUobserver's yearly magazine 'Europe in review 2013'. The print edition looks back at the most important stories of the year. To obtain a copy of the magazine, please contact mc@euobserver.com. Price per copy €4.75 + postage, excl. vat. Discounts on larger purchases.

Commission won't call Castro a dictator

The EU executive says that a statement decribing the former Cuban leader as a "hero for many" is balanced and suggests that the use of the word dictator by a commissioner doesn't reflect its position.

News in Brief

  1. Talks on wholesale roaming rules to start
  2. Lead MEP Dieselgate committee: Italy and Slovakia will cooperate
  3. Transparency NGO sues EU commission on Turkey deal
  4. Pro-EU liberal wins UK by-election
  5. Finnish support for Nato drops, Russia-scepticism grows
  6. Cyprus talks to resume in January
  7. Documents from German NSA inquiry released
  8. Transport commissioner 'not aware' of legal action on emissions

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Gaming & Betting AssociationContinues to Grow its Membership and Welcomes its Newest Member Association
  2. ACCASupports the Women of Europe Awards, Celebrating the Women who are Building Europe
  3. European Heart NetworkWhat About our Kids? Protect Children From Unhealthy Food and Drink Marketing
  4. ECR GroupRestoring Trust and Confidence in the European Parliament
  5. UNICEFChild Rights Agencies Call on EU to put Refugee and Migrant Children First
  6. MIRAIA New Vision on Clean Tech: Balancing Energy Efficiency, Climate Change and Costs
  7. World VisionChildren Cannot Wait! 7 Priority Actions to Protect all Refugee and Migrant Children
  8. ANCI LazioRegio-Mob Project Delivers Analysis of Trasport and Mobility in Rome
  9. SDG Watch EuropeCivil Society Disappointed by the Commission's Plans for Sustainable Development Goals
  10. PLATO15 Fully-Funded PhD Positions Open – The Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the EU (PLATO)
  11. Access NowTell the EU Council: Protect our Rights to Privacy and Security
  12. ACCAThe Future of Audit Means Adaption to Today’s Global and Digital World