Sunday

18th Feb 2018

Magazine

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.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

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 story was originally published in EUobserver's 2013 Europe in Review Magazine.

Click here to read previous editions of Europe in Review magazines.>

EU announces Iran nuclear deal

The world's most powerful countries and Iran have agreed a six-month deal on its nuclear programme, prompting outrage in Israel.

EU warns Turkey over 'threat' to Cyprus

The European Commission called on Ankara to refrain from doing "damage to good neighbourly relations", after Turkish vessels stop a rig from reaching a gas drilling zone.

Turkey 'ready' to reform terror laws for EU visa deal

Faruk Kaymakci, Turkey's ambassador to the EU, says Ankara is ready to reform its anti-terror laws and meet all outstanding benchmarks so that Turks can travel freely to EU member states without visas.

EU warns Turkey over 'threat' to Cyprus

The European Commission called on Ankara to refrain from doing "damage to good neighbourly relations", after Turkish vessels stop a rig from reaching a gas drilling zone.

News in Brief

  1. Merkel: Nord Stream 2 pipeline poses 'no danger'
  2. Spanish king in Barcelona next week
  3. Turkey jails journalists for life
  4. Make budget cuts in farm and regional funds, the Dutch say
  5. UN: Hungary's anti-migration bill is 'assault on human rights'
  6. Journalist Deniz Yucel freed in Turkey
  7. New organic farming bill not ready until late spring
  8. Commissioner: Western Balkans in EU is 'obvious'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  2. EPSUMovie Premiere: 'Up to The Last Drop' - 22 February, Brussels
  3. CESICESI@Noon on ‘Digitalisation & Future of Work: Social Protection For All?’ - March 7
  4. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  6. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  7. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.Suing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name
  8. Dialogue PlatformBeyond the Errors in the War on Terror: How to Fight Global Militarism - 22 February
  9. Swedish EnterprisesHarnessing Globalization- at What Cost? Keynote Speaker Commissioner Malmström
  10. European Friends of ArmeniaSave The Date 28/02: “Nagorno-Karabakh & the EU: 1988-2018”
  11. European Heart NetworkSmart CAP is Triple Win for Economy, Environment and Health
  12. European Free AlllianceEFA Joined the Protest in Aiacciu to Solicit a Dialogue After the Elections

Latest News

  1. EU asks charities to explain anti-abuse measures
  2. ECB, Budget, EU elections This WEEK
  3. EU states stay mute on implementation of mercury bill
  4. Baltic states demand bigger EU budget
  5. Germany raises concerns over Hungary's 'Stop Soros' bills
  6. EU ties Brexit transition talks to divorce agreement
  7. EU divided over Western Balkan enlargement
  8. Facebook and Twitter weak on protecting users, says EU