Saturday, 11 April, 2020

Europe’s role in the future of Iran

By Monnet Matters, New Europe

Lately, we are reminded of an age-old dispute on whether democracy promotes trade and growth or whether trade and growth promotes democracy.

Last week, this question returned to the fore following the visit of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani to Italy and France.

Despite the many reservations in the West, the United States and some European Union member states, concerning Iran’s role in international politics and its role in the Middle East, Rouhani’s visit was deemed successful and necessary for both EU and Iran.

This is especially true in France where the French car industry, as well as the energy and aviation industry and the pharmaceutical industry signed contracts with a state that is important as regards energy, geopolitics and trade.

But perhaps the impoverished 80 million inhabitants of Iran are not the type of clients the European economy needs in order to resolve its crisis. Nevertheless, opening the door to Iran after decades of sanctions and isolation has an important strategic value.

For decades, Iran was forced to search for allies among the Russians and the Chinese. Its isolation created a serious problem to the energy market in the area and to security in the region.

The role of Iran in Iraq’s politics is instrumental since Iraq has a Shia Muslim majority. Iran is also playing an important role in the civil war in Yemen and is a key ally of Syria’s regime and an important player in Lebanon. That said, its continued isolation would cause serious repercussions in the Middle East. This is because Iran is a ‘de facto’ part of the solution.

Europe needs Iran just as much as Iran needs Europe.

President Rouhani is a moderate – as moderate as a politician can be in a quasi ‘theocratic’ state. But, there are fundamental differences between Iran’s politics and Rouhani’s dream for the future of his country and the politics and plans of the conservatives.

There is no doubt that we were able to seal the nuclear agreement because Hassan Rouhani is in power.

The benefits of his policy, which is about opening Iran to the world and to promoting economic growth, are widely understood by the middle classes and the youth of Iran. And they are backing his efforts.

Therefore, Europe’s role in the struggle between the moderates and the conservatives in Iran is important. The opening of economic relations, securing investments and boosting trade is a safe way to help the moderate prevail in Iran’s political sphere.

There are, of course, those who argue that Iran is among the champions of trampling human and civil rights. We were reminded of this by the demonstrations organised by human rights groups during Ruhani’s European tour.

But the question now is whether a solution to these human rights problems can be resolved if Europe continues its policy of isolation towards Iran.

History has many examples and experience shows us that doing business, allowing trade to penetrate a politically closed country, engaging in talks and negotiations with its leadership, could provide a better defence for those persecuted than a policy of sanctions and international isolation.

French President Francois Hollande did not retreat from his country’s commitment to human rights even though he permitted his ministers to sign the agreements with Iran. “I recalled the commitment of France to human rights,” he said, making it clear that he didn’t leave any doubts.  Therefore, for reasons of security, economy and for the defence of human rights as well, Europe must collaborate with Iran.

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