Saturday

25th Sep 2021

Opinion

Time for EU to hand Iran dossier to Mogherini

  • Ashton and Iran's FM - 'Iran talks are much more important than any one person' (Photo: eeas.europa.eu)

The nuclear talks with Iran have been a rare case for the EU’s high representative for security policy and foreign affairs (HR) to play a prominent role on the international stage.

The HR has presided over contacts with the Iranians for years - since 2006 not only on behalf of the EU and the E3 (France, Germany and the UK) but also on behalf of the other members of the EU3+3 group: the United States, Russia and China.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

At the moment, the talks are still chaired by Catherine Ashton, despite the fact that she stepped down as HR at the end of October.

Ashton’s mandate was extended because it made little sense to bring in someone new so soon before the November 24 deadline for a final deal.

But now that that deadline has been postponed to June 2015, the time has come for the EU to hand over the Iran dossier to the new HR, Mogherini.

There are rumours that the move is indeed being debated at the EU headquarters. The debate is pointless.

EU leaders should immediately announce that the handover will take place as soon as it is technically feasible. Otherwise, they would deal an unnecessary blow to the credibility of the EU as a foreign and security policy actor.

No question, personalities matter in international negotiations.

There may certainly be cases in which the result of delicate diplomatic talks heavily depends on the skills and creativity, as well as the authority, of the specific negotiators.

In those cases, having the same person overseeing and managing the whole process might be the wisest choice. But the Iran case is not one of them.

Ashton has handled the EU3+3-Iran talks well. The negotiation has given her the chance to gain international credibility and overcome the initial scepticism that greeted her appointment as HR in 2009.

The fact remains, however, that it was not her personal skills that won her the position as the EU3+3 interlocutor of the Iranians.

In fact, she was an unknown quantity with little to no experience in foreign policy when she stepped in. Rather it was her institutional position as EU foreign policy supremo.

She inherited the post in the nuclear talks from her predecessor, Javier Solana, who had arguably shown more initiative and resolve.

It was he, after all, who managed to win the trust of the George W. Bush-era US administration (particularly of the then-secretary of state Condolezza Rice) and gain US agreement that the HR would be representing not only the EU but the whole EU3+3 group.

Solana met several times with the Iranians and put forward some original ideas in order to convince them to get to the negotiating table (such as the “freeze for freeze” proposal, according to which Iran would suspend sensitive nuclear activities and the EU3+3 would suspend work on further sanctions for as long as the talks go on).

When Solana’s term ended he duly passed on all his responsibilities to Ashton.

This decision was right and in keeping with the EU’s often stated ambition to sharpen its foreign and security policy credentials.

Handing over the Iran dossier to Ashton was an important signal that the EU would remain involved in the issue according to its own structures and decision-making procedures.

It was the institution that mattered, not the person. Why should it now be different?

Mogherini, the new HR, has certainly no less foreign policy experience than Ashton had when she took office in 2009.

If anything, she is better placed than Ashton was.

She was Italy’s foreign minister (albeit for only a few months); she chaired the Italian delegation to Nato’s parliamentary assembly; and she was long in the international affairs group of her party.

Granted, this is not an overly impressive foreign policy resume.

Nevertheless, EU leaders determined that it was enough to appoint her as HR.

Should they prevent her from managing one of the most important dossiers handled by the HR office, they would send the signal that they do not trust their own choices.

During the 12-year long dispute with Iran, foreign ministers and negotiators have come and gone on all sides: Iran, the US, the E3, and the EU itself.

But the talks continue because they are much more important than any one person.

There is no reason to expect that this has changed now.

Riccardo Alcaro is ia visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington, and a senior fellow at the Istituto Affari Internazionali in Rome

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

A close look at the EU foreign service staff reshuffle

Mogherini's staff reshuffle in the EU foreign service should have been more transparent and orderly. But it has helped to create a better balance between the interests of states and EU institutions.

EU and US differ on Iran sanctions

After decades of international isolation, Iran is eager to enter its post-sanction era, while Washington is divided about Iran’s future and Brussels remains apprehensive.

News in Brief

  1. Italy arrests Puigdemont on Spanish warrant
  2. EU and US hold trade talks despite French wrath
  3. EMA to decide on Pfizer vaccine booster in October
  4. EU welcomes Polish TV-station move
  5. Ukrainian parliament passes law to curb power of oligarchs
  6. EU could force Poland to pay lignite-coal fine
  7. Report: EU and US concerned by tech-giants' power
  8. EU states sign 'transparency pledge'

Russia's biggest enemy? Its own economy

Russia's leaders have been fully aware of the reasons for its underlying economic weakness for more than two decades. Dependency on energy exports and the lack of technological innovation were themes of Vladimir Putin's first state-of-the-nation address back in 2000.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed

Latest News

  1. Activists: 'More deaths' expected on Polish-Belarus border
  2. EU unveils common charger plan - forcing Apple redesign
  3. Central Europe leaders rail against 'new liberal woke virus'
  4. Yemen's refugees in 'appalling conditions', says UN agency
  5. VW emissions software was illegal, top EU lawyer says
  6. Sexism and the selection of the European Parliament president
  7. More French names linked to Russia election-monitoring
  8. Negotiations set for new, tougher, EU ethics body

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us