Brookings Institute: Iran Nuclear Talks and Europe’s Dilemma

Written by | Friday, November 28th, 2014

The extension of the nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 (the five UN Security Council permanent members plus the EU and Germany) until mid-2015 has generated mixed feelings. According to a recent report by Riccardo Alcaro from the Center on the United States and Europe at Brookings, one of the leading institutes in the U.S., there is, on the one hand, disappointment over the failure to find a solution of this longstanding issue and increasing concern that the gaps between the parties are too wide to bridge, while, on the other hand, there is relief that instead of walking away from the talks, all parties have instead sought to keep diplomacy alive.

The P5+1 may find some comfort in the fact that Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani is apparently so keen on negotiations that he has agreed to a simple roll-over of the so-called Joint Plan of Action (JPA), although this existing interim agreement has brought Iran few tangible benefits. Therefore, for the P5+1, the roll-over of the existing interim accord is a second-best option. Riccardo Alcaro argues here that this is particularly true in the case of Europe that may potentially be most vulnerable to the risks associated with a breakdown of diplomacy. This is mainly because China and Russia do not feel as threatened by a nuclear-capable Iran as the United States or Europe – if only due to its proximity.

While the nuclear talks with Iran are the one international security issue outside of Europe on which they have played a vital role, the latter has more to lose than simply a presence on the stage of international diplomacy. According to the report published by New York-based Brookings Institute, Europe sees several powerful advantages in a negotiated resolution: Firstly, there is the security interest, shared with the United States, in avoiding further tensions in the highly volatile Gulf region. Secondly, there is the economic interest, as the negotiation failure would preclude Europe’s access to Iran’s market for many years to come. Thirdly, the P5+1 offers Europe a valuable platform for multilateral engagement among the major world powers. Finally, the nuclear talks have shown that Europe could benefit from selective engagement particularly when it comes to its relations with Beijing and Moscow (if only since it is Europe that is most exposed to the ongoing confrontation with Russia). The Brookings report concludes that although Europe does not want a deal at any cost, the Europeans are probably the most determined to settle the Iranian nuclear issue.

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