The meeting of Iranian and European leaders in early January ended up abruptly when the Iranian officials all of a sudden stood up, walked out of the meeting room before slamming the door behind them, in what was a very unusual break of protocol. The European diplomats in the Iranian foreign ministry had been insisting that Europe could no longer put up with the ongoing ballistic missile tests in Iran and the allegations of assassination plots on the European soil, according to EU sources. The Iranian leadership defends itself by asserting that the plots allegations are not true and that the missile tests were purely defensive.
The cup was apparently full for Europeans after Iran had fired short-range ballistic missiles into Syria on 30 September and allegedly plotted assassinations in France and Denmark. “The accusations against Iran over the past few months have awoken a few countries in Europe that were against a tougher line on Iran,” a European-based Middle East diplomat said. “There was a lot of drama, they didn’t like it, but we felt we had to convey our serious concerns,” one of the European lawmakers said. “It shows the relationship is becoming more tense,” another diplomat added.
The retaliation was fast. The day following the meeting, Europeans imposed the first sanctions on Tehran since the 2015 nuclear deal was signed. The punitive measures are still largely symbolic but the meeting encapsulated the unexpected shift in European diplomacy since 2018. Smaller EU member states have joined France and Britain in a harder position on Iran including considering new economic sanctions such as travel bans or asset freezes.
Yet, there still are diverging opinions within the European Union on what to do about the rouge nation. If materialized, this shift would move Europe closer to the Trump administration’s position on Tehran and boost anti-Western sentiments among Iranians and thus lead to more belligerent moves in the Middle East where Iran is already involved in many proxy conflicts with its main regional rival, Saudi Arabia.