22nd Oct 2020

Smaller EU countries 'resent' Iran troika, US cable shows

  • US diplomats praised the Czech EU presidency back in 2009 (Photo: EUobserver)

Smaller EU member states "resent" the privileged access to information and decision-making powers of France, Germany and the UK on the Iranian dossier, a US account of a 2009 diplomatic meeting, published by WikiLeaks, shows.

Hosted by the then Czech EU presidency, the classified briefing on 3 March 2009 pooled together for the first time US non-proliferation and Middle East experts with their counterparts form all 27 EU states, not just the so-called "troika" of France, Germany and the UK.

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"Betraying some smaller EU states' resentment of the EU-3 countries' prerogatives within the Council on Iran policy, Cyprus pointedly thanked the US delegation for sharing information with the entire EU 'so all can take an informed decision,' rather than being asked to take action through a 'leap of faith' when some EUMS [EU member states] have information but the rest do not," the US cable says.

The US diplomat noted that delegates from the troika countries plus Italy "refrained from speaking during the briefing in apparent deference to the rest of the membership who do not enjoy routine access to US senior Iran policy makers."

Washington also appreciated the courage of the Czech EU presidency in hosting the joint briefing, despite the EU being "prickly over direct US participation in their internal discussions and processes, particularly after the bitter divides over Iraq." The Iraq war in 2003 deeply split the EU into pro-invasion and anti-invasion camps.

"The Czechs suffered some pushback prior to the event," the diplomat added.

The Czech-hosted discussion pre-dated a set of co-ordinated UN and EU sanctions on Iran adopted this year. Back in 2009, the Obama administration was still in "listening mode" and trying to pursue a "dual track approach" of sanctions and offers to dialogue with Tehran, in a bid to persuade the regime to give up its alleged nuclear weapons program.

France and the UK are both permanent members of the UN Security council, the main decision-making body on international sanctions. The US, China and Russia are the other three countries able to veto a UN decision. The EU has no formal role in this process, but the so-called troika, pooling two permanent members and the EU's powerhouse, Germany, is seen as an important tool of putting economic pressure on Iran via the EU.

The 2009 meeting confirmed that further EU measures would be "consistent with the US policy review" which was then under way in Washington after the George W. Bush administration left the White House, in January that year.

The US envoy "encouraged the EU to move forward on specific designations to support the current international framework targeting Iran's illicit conduct through financial measures."

He also toned down expectations from the EU side to have a bigger say on Iran policy: "The EU is predisposed to respond positively to the new administration's policy on Iran and wants its views taken into account during the policy review stage. [The US presentation] kept the good feelings going, but also helped bring EU experts down to earth in terms of specific tasks on which the EU could usefully focus now."

Despite the goodwill shown to the EU by attending this meeting and separate talks held with EU commission officials, the cable suggests the US prefers to conduct its EU relations via bilateral talks with various EU capitals rather than via central structures in Brussels.

"We hope the briefing provides a basis for further USG [United States government] lobbying in individual EU member states in capitals," the document says.

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