While US President Donald Trump declared that Iran is failing to fulfill the “spirit’ of its nuclear deal with world powers, the European Commission signed the first ever project for nuclear safety cooperation with Iran, under the framework of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). EU-Iran relations have been through different stages and most recently, over the last decade, conditioned by the international dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme, and the consequent sanctions regime that was in place against Iran. The lifting of sanctions against Tehran recently has opened the way for a renewal of broader relations. The EU attaches great importance to the highest standards of nuclear safety in Europe and beyond its borders. Through cooperation under the Instrument for Nuclear Safety Cooperation (INSC), the EU contributes to the improvement of nuclear safety levels and efficient and effective nuclear safeguards in non-EU countries.

The €2.5 million project signed on April 18 aims to enhance the capabilities of the Iranian Nuclear Regulatory Authority (INRA), the European Commission said, adding that it will do so by preparing feasibility study for the Nuclear Safety Centre foreseen in the JCPOA. It will support the INRA in developing a nuclear regulatory framework, working toward the accession by Iran to several international nuclear conventions, including the Convention on Nuclear Safety, and reviewing the results of the stress test to take place in the Bushehr nuclear power plant.

The project is the first of a €5 million action approved by the European Union in 2016 under the Instrument for Nuclear Safety Cooperation. A second project for the stress test at the Bushehr nuclear power plant is going to be signed in the coming weeks.

Negotiations on the Iranian nuclear programme between the E3/EU+3 (EU, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia China and the United States) with Iran resulted in agreement on the JCPOA on July 14, 2015. The deal is aimed at ensuring the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme while providing for the comprehensive lifting of all UN Security Council sanctions as well as EU and US sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear programme.

The Foreign Affairs Council of July 20, 2015 endorsed the JCPOA and also expressed the expectation that this “positive development will open the door to a steady improvement in relations between the European Union, its Member States and Iran, as well as improved Iranian regional and international relations (…)”.

On January 16, 2016, “Implementation Day” was reached and the EU lifted all nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions against Iran. This followed verification by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran had implemented the agreed nuclear-related measures as set out in the JCPOA.

The conclusion and implementation of the JCPOA has opened the way for a renewal of broader relations. This welcome development allows the EU and Iran to start a gradual engagement, which will take place on the basis of the full implementation of the JCPOA by Iran.

A High Level Dialogue was held on February 8-9, 2016 at Vice-Minister/Political Director level, during which future areas of cooperation between the EU and Iran were identified. Exploratory missions at technical level have followed on energy, research and innovation, transport and economic cooperation. Iranian delegations have come to Brussels at senior official level on education and research and trade and investment.

On April 16, 2016, EU High Representative and Vice President Federica Mogherini led a high level delegation to Iran. The delegation included EU Commissioners Elżbieta Bieńkowska, in charge of Internal Market and Industry, Violeta Bulc, for Transport, Miguel Arias Cañete, in charge of Climate Action and Energy, Carlos Moedas, for Research, Science and Innovation, Tibor Navracsics, in charge of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Christos Styliandes, for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis management and Karmenu Vella, in charge of Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, according to the Commission.

The EU delegation agreed with its Iranian counterparts future areas of engagement and cooperation, including human rights, economic relations, energy and civil nuclear cooperation, environment, migration, drugs, humanitarian aid, transport, civil protection, science, as well as culture. More broadly, regional issues were also discussed and will also be part of a future agenda of dialogue.

A joint statement between the High Representative and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif was adopted establishing among others regular political consultations as well as sectoral dialogues in different fields from economy to trade, energy to migration and human rights.

“We aim at a dialogue that is comprehensive in scope, cooperative in the fields where we have mutual interest, and our citizens have mutual interest, a dialogue that can be critical and open in the areas where we know we disagree, looking for common ground, and overall constructive in tone and in practice,” Mogherini told a press conference at the end of the visit. “So you can call it a ‘dialogue of the 4 Cs’: comprehensive, cooperative, critical if needed, constructive always,” she added.

Bieńkowska and Stylianides visited Iran to foster economic and business, and humanitarian cooperation respectively. The Iranian Vice-Presidents, Ali Salehi and Masoumeh Ebtekar visited Brussels to advance civil nuclear cooperation and environment and climate exchanges.

On November 14, 2016 the Foreign Affairs Council adopted conclusions reiterating its “resolute commitment to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)”, and expressing “its support for the development of EU-Iran relations in areas of common interest”, as laid out in the April Joint Statement agreed by Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. The FAC also stated its concerns with the human rights situation and advocated for a more constructive regional environment.

The second round of high-level dialogue took place on November 9 in Brussels at Vice-Minister/Secretary-General level. Separate meetings were held on human rights – as agreed by Mogherini and Zarif – and finance and banking issues. To facilitate further cooperation and with a view to preparing the future opening of an EU Delegation, an EU liaison team was sent to Tehran on May 22, 2016 and is co-located in the Dutch Embassy.


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