On 11 January, the Foreign Ministers of Germany, Britain and France and the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy had agreed with Foreign Minister Zarif of Iran to launch a structured dialogue on regional issues. The aim is to establish a new channel of communication on particularly critical issues in order to prevent new crises. The first meeting was held in Munich and focused on the difficult situation in Yemen. Gabriel believes the initiative has got off to a good start: “The meeting on the margins of the Munich Security Conference was an important first step.”
Preserving the nuclear deal
The overall political environment in which talks with Iran are taking place is difficult: the United States are reappraising the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that was agreed in Vienna, not least due to Tehran’s critical role in the Middle East. Foreign Minister Gabriel has repeatedly stated that “we Europeans, like our American allies, have a critical view of and share the concerns regarding Iran’s highly problematic role in the region and its missile programme. At the same time, we do not want to call into question the undeniable achievements of the JCPOA.” In his view, “the Middle East will continue to be plagued by unrest if Iran does not pursue constructive policies.”
Gabriel warned that an easing of tensions is only conceivable if “alongside keeping up significant pressure, we initiate a dialogue process with Iran with a view to finding possible solutions”. He therefore believed a substantial dialogue process is needed “through which we openly address our respective interests and perceived threats”. He also stressed that “we expect the Iranian side to be willing to fully engage in this process.”
Learning from experience
Proof that this approach can deliver tangible results was provided by the JCPOA negotiation process; 15 years ago, another dialogue between Europeans and Iran was initiated. The United States, among others, later joined these talks, which ultimately led to the successful conclusion of the Vienna nuclear agreement. The format of this newly established structured dialogue is inclusive and aims to enable participation by other countries in the process. In addition to Germany, France and the United Kingdom, the EU and Italy are also participating in the new format. These efforts will however require a great deal of stamina: “Everyone involved understands it is going to be a long and hard road. But it is also a cause worth spending our political capital on. If a basis is thus created for substantial negotiations, with a view to achieving a more constructive status quo, then that would be a great accomplishment,” Foreign Minister Gabriel said.