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EU and Iran Inevitable Choice: De-Securitization of Relation

Aliakbar Kiani

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Iran’s deal with great powers in the framework of 5+1 negotiations (or 3+3 as European partners prefer to name it!), leads to Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Both sides seem to be committed to the plan so far; Iran to reduce its nuclear double use technologies and the west to remove international sanctions for that regard. But US election outcome brought a threat to the agreement. Trump since election’s campaign criticized the deal as the worst in the history of the United State. Forgetting how true this claim can be, concerning current trends in the Middle East, he is up to not extend the US partnership in the agreement anymore in the next step.

This happens in the circumstance which Europeans consider the agreement one of the biggest achievements of their approach toward managing global peace and security in order to settle the challenges with dialogue. This stand is normal for pro-EU actors after some severe damages to EU structure like BRIXIT or far right movements’ successes in some domestic elections which remind us the problem of democracy where it was born.

On the other hand some European states had deep good economic and industrial ties with Iran before imposing extensive international sanctions by United Nations Security Council on Iran for its nuclear project in 2010. Therefore Europeans tried to redesign economic contracts with Iran and at the meantime keep US in the deal. German, British and some other’s high officials visited Tehran. The last one was French foreign minister Le Drian diplomatic visit which all are rare event in European-Iranian relations. Announcement of French president Macron plan for an official voyage to Tehran comes to absolutely unique occasion during last four decades which we used to see Tehran’s isolation by western leaders despite mentioned trade connections.

Not like extremists in the US, mostly European civic pioneers believe that with deepen relations with Iran, they can improve democracy and social society in Iranian alive and dynamic community.  Therefore this can serve western global values as well. In spite of Iranian authority demonstrates modest motivation to promote and support this capacity. Does this case show a weakness point in European agenda which has to forget some basic norms it was established for?

But Iranian wise politicians consider the gaps between EU and US. Even though they cooperate with each other in the world’s securitized issues but Europeans are gradually coming out of Americans military shadow. Some plans for establishment of a European military organization embedded in EU not NATO is an evidence. English depart also accelerates this trend. Whereas other competitions in economic and trade fields are severely considerable in two sides of Atlantic.

With no doubt EU has not a unique spirit. New members in particular from eastern part are more interested in business affairs comparing to founders in the west which civic values are still important. Therefore individual members are capable to have different approach in relation with a rich energy state like Iran whiles their bosses in EU trying to teach them lessons of liberal democracy!

Iran’s Rise

After about four decades past from the Islamic revolution, Iran is going to regain its historical place in the region as a leader. Although reemergence of ancient Persian Empire after long term deprivation and current international political system seems not viable, but acting as a regional hegemony is lowest desire. Both world’s great powers and average states in the Middle East (e.g. US and Saudi Arabia) are concerns about Iranians ambitions and have declared that, beside practical measures in counter. But Iran is trying to reduce tensions by de-securitizing the relations in particular with the west explaining that: “this is our “breathing space” and reasonably normal for a power in our size!”. But here are some other facts which must be respected by critics.

Since the Islamic revolution in 1979, European-Iranian relations have fluctuated. US embassy crisis, Iran-Iraq 8 years’ war, Salman Roshdi’s book case, Mykonos court in Germany, Nuclear and Missile file beside human rights problem and some other events during last 4 decades severely damaged bilateral relations. In better word EU-Iran relations followed an action-reaction model instead of initiative productive approach which could serve both side’s interests.

Question is: For a world actor like EU and regional one like Iran, in spite of differences, a productive approach in relations is promising which maximizes achievable interests for both sides?

In some realistic perspective, analyzers believe that two sides’ different ideologies and norms make it difficult to be cooperative partners. But more social security approach proposes an alternative method. In this practical approach, de-securitization of relations is a solution. Most of available affairs are mainly politically oriented and are not security issues at all. Therefore establishment of productive relations is possible. Particularly when we remember in recent decades they had deep good economic relations even after revolution. In this context spillover of Functionalism agenda -which is an interesting approach in EU’s enlargement process – is also applicable.

Roots of Current Situation

Iranian Islamic republic had some essential principles which have been inflexible since the revolution. But various administrations in power -each for period of eight years- had different domestic and foreign policies. Like a spectrum, one based its strategy against west (by conservatives) and another one rather more pro-western at least in case of Europe (by reformists), and it is observable that both trends have their supports in the entire community of Iran. So, could Europeans take a strategy to strengthen one serving their own interests?

Indeed Iran’s strategic situation in the Middle East between Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea and being the leader of Shie’ Muslims, besides Iranian’s challenge with US and Israel, made Iran a crucial actor for EU. Keeping in mind energy resources and Iran’s big economic and trading market capacities never allowed Europe to put this vital state out of EU’s main agenda in the region, if not the world. Iranians also tried to divide US and Europe from the beginning. Europeans kept their strategic economic and political relations and even did not followed unilateral US sanctions imposed on Iran for US’s Embassy hostage in Tehran although they remain alarmed. Till the recent Nuclear file (non proliferation policy which normally EU sees itself more committed) announced by UN Security Council’s resolution, could unify EU and US against Iran.

But we know EU has some internal security challenges in globalized world which Iran can play more efficient role even if being a bad actor. Iran as a regional power and leader for a large branch of Muslims and also active neighboring with countries which almost all are in domestic terrible (e.g. Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, etc); with its energy and trade capacity can be a helpful partner for EU in the Middle East more than many others. Rooted terrorism in the Middle East, migrants and refugees flood, Energy resources (Iran has one the largest stocks in the world), and trade market capacities, environment and last but not the least drug smuggling road (which Iran is first in the world for fighting with Opium planted in Afghanistan) are of both sides main concerns.

More importantly Iran is not anymore same decades ago actor in the world politics. 1979’s revolution brought new young extremist politicians on power. They were against west oriented and pro Muslim community. But imposed war by  Saddam as representative of majority of Arab tyrant states (to prevent export of revolutionary waves) and many years challenge with some neighbors (in particular KSA or UAE and the rest!) made these currently matured politicians more realistic which are considering national interest in higher priority. They are pursuing practical ways to play viable role and gaining respectable position, while not violating revolution’s principles. New young generation as surveys show, is also less anti-western people despite continued propaganda and antagonism.

An opportunity for Europe is that Iran does not like to work with the US officially[1] and correspondingly US administration tries to keep and introduce Iran as a threat for liberal world. Thus with Iran’s leverage, EU can be more active actor in the Middle East; that is important for EU to prevent US unilateralism in the world politics. Internal security concerns and migrations challenge, rising of far right movements -which complains Union’s weak performance- and various other social and economic challenges are threatening European integration future. However Union’s practical capacity in the world politics highlighted among pan-Europeans and Iran could be for one more time the Victory Bridge[2].

Although for an actor like Iran, working with individual European states is more beneficial. Since most of critics against itself are not really in Union’s smaller states domestic interest, but they seems more EU’s general normative concern. Nevertheless in this context, these two actors can establish a regime for cooperation which benefits both sides. De-securitization of relation and focusing on mutual interests in the region with development of economic and trade capacities can shape better future.

Historically, they [EU-Iran] transferred from “critical dialogues” in the first decade of Islamic revolution (1980’s) to “constructive dialogue” in the second decade(1990’s) which synchronized with the proposal of the idea of “dialogue among civilizations” by Iranian reformist president, leads to recent nuclear talks and settlement (2010’s) by E3+3 in 2015. As mentioned earlier, if EU plays a more observable positive role with Iran, this will support reformists to achieve sets in domestic administration and it helps growth of democratic society easier and faster.

It seems today, is the time for long-term connections to de-securitize bilateral relation in order to be supportive partners for common interests in the region. It can assist Iran be a more productive actor in the region respecting more EU and world’s normative order and either being an asset for EU to deal with home challenges.

Conclusion and future Perspective

Iranian-European relation in spite of periodic fluctuation had a module during recent four decades and it inspired by both sides interests and benefits of cooperation and coordination. Although Iran had a more ideological approach and Europe had more economic priorities. Regarding Iran’s capabilities to influence processes of affairs in the Middle East and even beyond, American approach was quiet aggressive and made barriers in the course in particular by securitization the situation around Iran. It happens both in regional and international levels and also in case by case striking (like recent nuclear file).

Therefore, in order to keep the enthusiasm of Iran-EU connections alive, de-securitization of relation is essential in spite of US will. It is clear that both sides do also prefer this trend but till EU cannot get rid of American military shadow, European efforts to reduce Iranian threat perception should be continued since Iran has much fewer tools to enhance this agenda in public environment regarding the importance of media influence in the west.

Construction of this basement will spill over to other sub-fields which can develop bilateral connections. Respecting Iranian community potentials this will lead to improve Iran’s behavior in the framework of European values which by confrontation strategy by the west will reinforce conservatives in Iran and moving in counter way. For a recent US administration which tries to weaken European Union integration, rethinking the relations with a complicated actor like Iran in such a way will be great chance for pan-Europeans.

All in all, reminding the facts of collapse in western community in face of Iran, hence keeping in mind current real chaos in the Middle East and western Asia; US exit from nuclear deal (JCPOA) can divide US-EU more in coming years and encourage Europeans to have their own strategy toward world’s challenges.

[1] To be as one of Islamic revolution’s columns; this introduced USA as an Imperialist state beside Israel as an occupier regime dominates an Islamic state.

[2] Like during Second World War in 1943 for British-Russian joint operations connecting south-north in winning the great battle.

PhD in international relations from Iran. Young guest professor in number of universities and researcher in various think thanks in Tehran including center for Middle East strategic studies and institute for Iran-EU-US researches. Formerly served as expert in the center for Globalization studies dependent to Iranian presidency. Have various papers and international academic experiences in Europe and East Asia.

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Saudi Arabia’s Entertainment Plans: Soft Power at Work?

Dr. Theodore Karasik

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Saudi Arabia recently broke ground on its ambitious “entertainment city” known as Qiddiya, near Riyadh. The splashy launch, attended by 300 dignitaries from around the world, highlights a frequently overlooked aspect of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan: the entertainment industry as a growing economic sector. As the kingdom diversifies its economy away from reliance on petro fuels, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been keen to showcase the increasing openness of his country, promoting festivals, concerts and sports events and ending the country’s 35-year ban on cinemas.

These projects are partially intended to bolster the economy and attract FDI—but not only. Saudi Arabia is also playing catch-up with other regional actors, such as Qatar and the UAE, in terms of cultural output and cultural participation. With Qiddiya and the other cultural projects in the works, Saudi is now carving out a road for itself to become a regional culture hub.

Thefirst phase of Qiddiya, which includes high-end theme parks, motor sport facilities and a safari area, is expected to be completed in 2022.  Saudi officials hope the park will draw in foreign investment and attract 17 million visitors by 2030; the final phase of the project is expected to be completed in 2035, by which point the entertainment resort will be the largest in the world, dwarfing Florida’s Walt Disney World.

Beyond these financial incentives, however, the Qiddiya project is Saudi Arabia’s answer to events like the Dubai Expo 2020 or the Qatar World Cup 2022 and suggests that the kingdom is trying to position itself as the next big destination for lucrative events – which also add to the idea that entertainment, culture, and innovation are key to Saudi Arabia’s economic vision and success.

Vision 2030’s emphasis on entertainment raises a key question: is Riyadh attempting to increase its soft power across the region in a constructive and proactive way?  The answer to that question is yes.

In the immediate future, Qatar and the UAE will remain the region’s foremost entertainment and cultural hubs.  From Qatar’s Islamic Museum of Art, which famous architect I.M. Pei came out of retirement to design, to Dubai’s theme parks, including a $1 billion behemoth which is the world’s largest indoor theme park, these two Gulf states are demonstrating their prowess to develop an arts and culture scene.  In Doha, Qatar is exemplifying its unique outlook towards world affairs by emphasizing humanitarianism and fourteen centuries of history.  Qatar is also hosting the World Cup in 2022, intended to bring Doha center-stage in the sports world. Abu Dhabi’s Louvre has been referred to as “one of the world’s most ambitious cultural projects”, while advertisements throughout the emirate insist that the museum will cause its visitors to “see humanity in a new light”.

Despite these Gulf states’ head start on developing vibrant entertainment sectors, there is still room for Saudi Arabia to offer something new. For one thing, some of its neighbors are dealing with trouble in paradise: Qatar’s once-strong economy is under increasing strain as the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt boycott it; meanwhile, the company which owns many of Dubai’s largest theme parks lost $302 million in 2017.

The Qiddiya project also represents a particular vision that’s distinct from neighboring countries’ cultural programs. Qiddiya is designed to mix desert heritage and the ethos of the past with the technological advances of the future. The intended result is to be a fusion between aspirations and building on those achievements from desert to post-modernity, on a colossal scale.

The project is crafted both to satisfy domestic demand—it includes plans to build 11,000 homes to serve as vacation homes for Riyadh residents— and to compete directly against Saudi Arabia’s neighbors in the Gulf. With two-thirds of the Saudi population under the age of 35, building a thriving entertainment sector is particularly important.

The kingdom is hoping to use its idea of mixing the past with the future in Qiddiya to significantly alter the flow of tourist revenues in the Gulf. The UAE, Qatar and Bahrain rely on tourists from the Gulf and beyond for essential cash inflows—including the $30 billion a year Saudis spend on tourism abroad every year. By providing new entertainment options in-country for Saudi Arabia’s citizens and residents, who pay more than any other country’s citizens while on vacation, Riyadh aims to redirect some of this overseas tourism spending back into the kingdom. It’s set up concrete goals to this effect, hoping to increase domestic spending on culture and entertainment from about three percent of household income to six percent. Saudi Arabia also likely hopes that Qiddiya will attract significant international tourism as well—one senior official tied the park’s creation to the goal of making Riyadh one of the top 100 cities in the world to live.

Of course, it is likely to be a long wait before the kingdom itself starts producing the cultural output that will make it a real entertainment hub; after all, Saudi public schools still do not teach music, dance and theater, and the kingdom lacks music and film academies. But by taking the first steps of embracing the vast economic potential of the entertainment sector, the kingdom may well be on its way there.

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Israel, Ukraine, and U.S. Crack Down Against Press

Eric Zuesse

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On Wednesday, May 16th, Russian Television reported recent crackdowns against the press, on the part of both Ukraine’s Government and Israel’s Government. One headline story, “9 journalists injured by Israeli gunfire in Gaza ‘massacre’, total now over 20”, reported that Israel had shot dead two journalists:

“Yaser Murtaja, 31, a cameraman for Palestinian Ain Media agency, died on April 7 after he was shot by Israeli forces the previous day while covering a protest south of the Gaza Strip. He wore a blue protective vest marked ‘PRESS’.”

And:

“Ahmad Abu Hussein, 24, was shot by Israeli forces during a protest in the Gaza strip on April 13. He died from his injuries on April 25. He was also wearing a protective vest marked ‘PRESS’ at the time.”

The other 18 instances were only injuries, not murders, but Israel has now made clear that any journalist who reports from the Palestinian side is fair game for Israel’s army snipers — that when Palestinians demonstrate against their being blockaded into the vast Gaza prison, and journalists then report from amongst the demonstrators instead of from the side of the snipers, those journalists are fair game by the snipers, along with those demonstrators.

Some of the surviving 18 journalists are still in critical condition and could die from Israel’s bullets, so the deaths to journalists might be higher than just those two.

Later in the day, RT bannered “Fist-size gunshot wounds, pulverized bones, inadmissible use of force by Israel in Gaza – HRW to RT” and presented a damning interview with the Israel & Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch.

The other crackdown has been by Ukraine. After the U.S. Obama Administration perpetrated a very bloody coup in Ukraine during February of 2014, that country has plunged by every numerical measure, and has carried out raids against newsmedia that have reported unfavorably on the installed regime. The latest such incident was reported on May 16th by Russian Television, under the headline, “US endorses Kiev’s raid on Russian news agency amid international condemnation”. An official of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) stated there: “I reiterate my call on the authorities to refrain from imposing unnecessary limitations on the work of foreign journalists, which affects the free flow of information and freedom of the media.” An official of the CPJ (Committee to Protect journalists) stated: “We call on Ukrainian authorities to disclose the charges and evidence they have against Vyshinsky or release him without delay. … We also call on Ukrainian authorities to stop harassing and obstructing Russian media operating in Ukraine. The criminalization of alternative news and views has no place in a democratic Ukraine.” However, as reported by RT, Ukraine’s Prosecutor-General called the editorial policy of the anti-regime RIA Ukraine “anti-Ukrainian” in nature, amounting to “state treason.” So, the prosecutor is threatening to categorize and prosecute critical press under Ukraine’s treason law.

The U.S. regime is not condemning either of its client-regimes for their crackdowns. (It cites Ukraine’s supposed victimhood from “Russian propaganda” as having caused Ukraine’s action, and justifies Israel’s gunning-down of demonstrators and of journalists as having beeen necessary for Israel’s self-defense against terrorism.) In neither instance is the U.S. dictatorship saying that this is unacceptable behavior for a government that receives large U.S. taxpayers funds. Of course, in the U.S., the mainstream press aren’t allowed to report that either Israel or today’s Ukraine is a dictatorship, so they don’t report this, though Israel clearly is an apartheid racist-fascist (or ideologically nazi, but in their case not against Jews) regime, and Ukraine is clearly also a racist-fascist, or nazi, regime, which engages in ethnic cleansing to get rid of voters for the previous — the pre-coup — Ukrainian government. People who are selected individually by the installed regime, get driven to a big ditch, shot, with the corpses piling up there, and then the whole thing gets covered over. This is America’s client-‘democracy’ in Ukraine, not its client-‘democracy’ in Israel.

May 16th also was the day when the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee voted 10 to 5 to approve as the next CIA Director, Gina Haspel, the person who had headed torture at the CIA’s black site in Thailand where Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times and blinded in one eye in order to get him to say that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks; and, since then, Zubaydah, who has never been in court, has been held incommunicado at Guantanamo, so that he can’t testify in court or communicate with the press in any way. “The U.S. Government has never charged Zubaydah with any crime.” And the person who had ordered and overseen his torture will soon head the agency for which she worked, the CIA.

Whether the U.S. regime will soon start similarly to treat its own critical press as “traitors” isn’t clear, except that ever since at least the Obama Administration, and continuing now under Trump, the U.S. Government has made clear that it wants to seize and prosecute both Edward Snowden and Julian Assange for their journalistic whistleblowing, violations of “state secrets,” those being anything that the regime wants to hide from the public — including things that are simply extremely embarrassing for the existing rulers. Therefore, the journalistic-lockdown step, from either Israel, or Ukraine, to U.S., would be small, for the United States itself to take, if it hasn’t yet already been taken in perhaps secret ways. But at least, the Senate Intelligence Committee is strongly supportive of what the U.S. Government has been doing, and wants more of it to be done.

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JCPOA in Post-US Exit: Consequences and Repercussions

Nisar Ahmed Khan

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The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal signed by the P 5+1 in 2015 was widely hailed as a landmark achievement made possible by sincere dialogue and diplomacy. Indeed, the agreement is to a greater extent an achievement of the nuclear non-proliferation regime that helped checked the increasingly disturbing power symmetry in the Middle East which in return has managed to contain the transformation of low intensity conflicts into all out wars. A relative stability is the hallmark which resulted from JCPOA in the Middle East which is extremely volatile region of the world. A vital question is: how these achievements are going to be affected by the US withdrawal from it?

The US withdrawal from JCPOA will adversely affect the aforementioned three areas of its accumulative achievement with variant degree. First, it has negative consequences for the norm that negotiated settlements in international arenas has the potential and lasting credibility to minimize violence or other coercive means led by war. The momentum and confidence the diplomatic means have garnered in post- JCPOA scenario will come to the crushing halt. The sealed and mutually agreed upon agreements in international arena especially in which the US is the potential party, will come under extreme scrutiny leading to an environment of gross trust deficit. Therefore, on the first instance this withdrawal has negative lasting consequences for the diplomatic norms in itself.

Secondly, US exist from the deal does not augur well for the nascent nuclear non-proliferation regime. This regime has a dearth of good precedents like the JCPOA which has deterred a nation from acquiring and operationalizing nuclear weapons as is the case with Iran. Keeping in view this backdrop of this institution, JCPOA has been its glaring example wherein it has managed to successfully convince a nation to not pursue the path which leads towards the nuclear weapons. Therefore, the US withdrawal has shaken the confidence of the non-proliferation regime to its core. It has engendered a split among the leading nations who were acting as sort of de facto executive to enforce the agreements on the nuclear ambitious states. Therefore, this US withdrawal has undoubtedly far reaching repercussions for the non-proliferation as an institution. This development may affect the nature and its future development as an institutional mechanism to deter the recalcitrant states to change their course regarding the nuclear weapons.

Thirdly, in relation to the above mentioned negative consequences on diplomacy and nuclear non-proliferation regime, the US withdrawal from the deal has far serious security ramifications for the volatile and conflict ridden Middle East. It has multiplied the prospects of all-out war between Iran and its regional rivals on one hand and Iran and Israel on the other hand. Just tonight the announcement of Trump exiting JCPOA and the Israeli aggression on Syrian military bases substantiates the assertion that there exists a correlation between this US withdrawal and the Zionist regime`s regional hegemonic designs. It has extremely positive message for the Saudi Arabia. The impulsive and overambitious Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) went on extended tours in the US and Europe to convince Western leadership that Iran should be contained.  Therefore, element of stability in the region – contained low intensity conflicts – got serious motivation to turn into all-out-wars  with non-exclusion of nuclear options at the disposal of Zionist regime in the Middle East. The Middle Eastern region with this exit of the US is going to observe substantial turmoil in the months to come which will have some extra regional ramifications.

As a conclusion it could be argued that the US exit has some far reaching repercussions for the diplomatic norms, non-proliferation regime and above all for the volatile Middle Eastern region. All these ramifications resulted from the US withdrawal will also in return have some serious consequences internally and externally. The status of the US as the sole super power of the world will be diminished with this decision. It will create an unbridgeable gap in the West. Henceforth, the EU foreign will be more autonomous, integrated and autonomous in her conduct.

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