The EU’s role in the conflict between Iran and the USA: de-escalation!

'The most relevant and responsible attitude to take is that of maximum restraint and avoiding any escalation on a military side' [1]. Federica Mogherini’s response to Iran’s threats of coming out of the nuclear deal could not have been clearer. In an ultimatum, the Iranian regime called on the EU to take steps before 7 July towards lessening the US sanctions. After this deadline, Iran threatens to cease compliance with the terms of the agreement. For weeks, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy has been calling tirelessly on the governments of the US and Iran to refrain from any escalation in the Persian Gulf region. She has also repeatedly stressed the determination of the European Union to take responsibility for keeping the agreement afloat. In a joint declaration published last week, the current and future European members of the United Nations Security Council [2] underlined their support for Mogherini’s position. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has also made de-escalation a priority. Together with Federica Mogherini and his colleagues from France and the UK, he addressed the Iranian government in a Joint Statement this Tuesday, urging on Iran to comply with the nuclear deal. Recent weeks have also seen meetings in Paris between British, German and French senior diplomats with the US special envoy for Iran, to discuss ways of rescuing the deal. On the sidelines of the G20 Summit, French President Emmanuel Macron and US President Donald Trump discussed the conflict. Ahead of the meeting, President Macron announced that he hoped to persuade his counterpart that ' it’s in his interest to reopen a window on the negotiation process' [3].

Nuclear deal goes down as a success of joint foreign policy 

There is a consensus agreement within the EU that any further escalation of the conflict between Iran and the US could have incalculable consequences for the already tense security situation of the wider region. The EU considers the negotiations that led to the nuclear deal as one of the great success stories of its joint foreign policy. The deal is rightly seen as an extraordinarily important pillar for maintaining regional and global security. Unlike many other foreign policy issues, the European Union speaks with one voice concerning the conflict between the United States and Iran. The fact that any breakdown of the nuclear deal could worsen ongoing humanitarian crises in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Jordan and Iran itself is very much a cause for concern.

De-escalation of the conflict 

The European Union must continue to work to keep the Iran deal in place or rescue it. The new European Commission, in the person of the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, will have a leading role in this, which will involve continuing Federica Mogherini’s efforts to preserve the deal and bring diplomatic resources to have an impact on the parties to the conflict. With this in mind, it is important that, following the elections to the European Parliament at the end of May 2019, the EU does not become bogged down in negotiations over the distribution of the top jobs, but swiftly finds its modus operandi. In addition to talks with US diplomats and the US President, a joint trip to Iran of the foreign ministers of the European states directly involved in the deal – the UK, France and Germany – together with the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy would send out a clear signal to both sides that the EU continues to back the Iran agreement and support its continued existence. The EU should also make all efforts to coordinate with the other party states, China and Russia, over the survival of the agreement and to lend more weight to support of the deal. 

Future uncertain 

Neither the US nor Iran currently seem keen for a military confrontation. But this cannot be ruled out. On one side is the US President, who is known for his impulsive decisions lacking any strategic logic and his unpredictability; on the other, the Iranian regime seems convinced that it has this fragile situation under control. It is particularly alarming that both sides are pushing the conflict to a head, as any escalation could develop its own momentum and spiral out of all control. It came to light on 1 July that the nuclear deal had been further undermined, as Teheran has exceeded the permitted size of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium. It is all the more important for the EU to contribute to de-escalation by making clear that a return to the deal is not just one option out of many, but a precondition for ensuring peace in the region and in the interests of both Iran and the United States.


[1] Federica Mogherini, speaking after the meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council on 13 May 2019, (date: 02.07.2019)

[2] France, the United Kingdom (permanent members of the United Nations Security Council); Poland, Belgium, Germany (current non-permanent members), Estonia (non-permanent member from 2020)

[3] Emmanuel Macron, speaking ahead of the G20 Summit in Osaka, on 27 June 2019, (date: 02.07.2019)