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Divide et Impera

If you cannot get along with them, divide them… this seems to be the present position of the recently-appointed Administration in Tehran after President Ebrahim Raisi and his Foreign Minister Hossein Abdollahian brought back an old Foreign Policy Approach into the present stalemate between Tehran and Brussels. The Every Morning Asia online portal has raised an important question: Will Iran break the chains of the European Troika through the ‘Second Europe’ approach?

During the previous Administration, Iran’s Foreign Policy focused mainly on pragmatism in relations with the European Union (EU), precisely with the European Troika (France, Germany and the UK), the European signatories of the 2015 Iranian Nuclear Deal.

President Ebrahim Raisi

The Administration of former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani followed a ‘three priority agenda’ based on increasing the Iranian Economic Deterrence against possible future coercions by attracting European Direct Investments in the West Asian Nation, trying to move the EU away from the hardline taken by Washington DC in the negotiations on the Nuclear Agreement, and to get the EU assistance in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis by providing Tehran with medical equipment in times of increased pressure on the Iranian Health System. It may be noted that the EU was expected to have enough leverage over the US, the UN and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in order to save the Nuclear Agreement, and release Iran from the US-imposed sanctions regime.

So far, the three priorities failed to deliver the expected results by Tehran, and the latest declarations of President Raisi and Foreign Minister Abdollahian signalled the change of this approach in favour of a policy that keeps the European Troika at distance. This policy, called the ‘Second Europe’ approach, involves the possible rapprochement of Tehran with the ‘other Europe’, meaning Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Belgium in order to divide European cohesion on the Iranian Nuclear Programme while using their Economic Relationship with Iran as leverage against any coercive action of the European Troika that may run against the Second Europe’s economic interests in Iran. However, this strategy had been used before, and as History has shown, it was seen to fail miserably.

Former President Hassan Rouhani

The Second Europe, a political masterplan to break the spell of the so-called First Europe (France, Germany and the UK), in the European-Iranian Negotiations on the Iranian Nuclear Programme might become a Foreign Policy tool for the new Iranian Administration to advance its strategic interests amid a lack of cohesion at the EU level on foreign policy.

During the 1980s Iran-Iraq War, Tehran resorted to the Second Europe as an alternative to increase trade with European countries, other than the members of the First Europe that supported Baghdad against Revolutionary Iran. Iranian policy-makers believed that economic integration between Iran and Second Europe states would lead to their political support on behalf of the Islamic Republic against future First Europe’s coercions.

European leaders

Even though trade between Iran and the European countries, such as Sweden, Denmark and Finland, increased during that period of time, the political leverage was far from that expected by Tehran. In the 1980s, the then Soviet Union contributed to eliminating European differences on Iran for a more united perception of Iran modelled on the US, the European security guarantor against the Soviet ‘bête noire’.

A second attempt to revive the Second Europe Policy was thought of during the Administration of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from 2005 to 2013. However, this time, too, the European attempt to rebuild the Trans-Atlantic Relationship damaged by the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, and placing the Iranian Nuclear Programme under the EU-led Common Foreign and Security Policy top priorities, followed by the Iranian interest shift towards the emerging economic powerhouses in the East (China and India), put the Second Europe Policy on hold.

Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Whether the Raisi Administration will pursue this foreign policy approach again, it must take into consideration that even though the world changed considerably from the 1980s and early 2000s, many Second Europe states, which still keep their faith in the US, are committed to the Trans-Atlantic partnership and follow many EU-sponsored policies, including on the Iranian Nuclear Programme.

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