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Europe’s Defence of the Iran Nuclear Deal: Less than a Success, More than a Failure


For Europe, the Iran nuclear deal is a bittersweet story. Between 2003 and 2015, the Europeans played an important role in facilitating US-Iran nuclear diplomacy and eventually the agreement itself. After former US President Trump decided to exit the deal and revert to maximum economic pressure in 2018, the Europeans tried to recreate room for US-Iran engagement. While unsuccessful, they have nonetheless managed to remain relevant for both sides. The prospect of normalised economic relations with Europe has provided Iran with an incentive not to pursue nuclear weapons. As for the US, the nuclear deal – which still exists formally thanks to Europe – is the only framework available for re-engaging Iran in nuclear diplomacy, a prospect the new administration of Joe Biden has pledged to consider. Dismissing Europe’s efforts as ineffectual is therefore inaccurate since, in defending the nuclear deal, the Europeans have preserved a diplomatic bridge for US-Iranian re-engagement.
Keywords: EU foreign and security policy; EU-Iran relations; Iran’s nuclear programme; transatlantic relations; nuclear non-proliferation