Relations between the EU and Iran have been through different stages and most recently, over the last decade, conditioned by the international dispute over Iran's nuclear programme, and the consequent sanctions regime that was in place against Iran.
Negotiations on the Iranian nuclear programme between the E3/EU+3 (EU, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia China and the United States) with Iran resulted in agreement on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on 14 July 2015 by. The deal is aimed at ensuring the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme while providing for the comprehensive lifting of all UN Security Council sanctions as well as EU and US sanctions related to Iran's nuclear programme.
The Foreign Affairs Council of 20 July 2015 endorsed the JCPOA and also expressed the expectation that this “positive development will open the door to a steady improvement in relations between the European Union, its Member States and Iran, as well as improved Iranian regional and international relations (…)”.
On 16 January 2016, "Implementation Day" was reached and the EU lifted all nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions against Iran. This followed verification by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran had implemented the agreed nuclear-related measures as set out in the JCPOA.
The conclusion and implementation of the JCPOA has opened the way for a renewal of broader relations. This welcome development allows the EU and Iran to start a gradual engagement, which will take place on the basis of the full implementation of the JCPOA by Iran.
A High Level Dialogue was held on 8-9 February 2016 at Vice-Minister/Political Director level, during which future areas of cooperation between the EU and Iran were identified. Exploratory missions at technical level have followed on energy, research and innovation, transport and economic cooperation. Iranian delegations have come to Brussels at senior official level on education and research and trade and investment.
On 16 April 2016, EU High Representative and Vice President Federica Mogherini led a high level delegation to Iran. The delegation included EU Commissioners Elżbieta Bieńkowska, in charge of Internal Market and Industry, Violeta Bulc, for Transport, Miguel Arias Cañete, in charge of Climate Action and Energy, Carlos Moedas, for Research, Science and Innovation, Tibor Navracsics, in charge of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Christos Styliandes, for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis management and Karmenu Vella, in charge of Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.
The EU delegation agreed with its Iranian counterparts future areas of engagement and cooperation, including human rights, economic relations, energy and civil nuclear cooperation, environment, migration, drugs, humanitarian aid, transport, civil protection, science, as well as culture. More broadly, regional issues were also discussed and will also be part of a future agenda of dialogue.
A joint statement between the High Representative and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif was adopted establishing among others regular political consultations as well as sectoral dialogues in different fields from economy to trade, energy to migration and human rights.
As stated by the High Representative in the press conference at the end of the visit:
“We aim at a dialogue that is comprehensive in scope, cooperative in the fields where we have mutual interest, and our citizens have mutual interest, a dialogue that can be critical and open in the areas where we know we disagree, looking for common ground, and overall constructive in tone and in practice. So you can call it a "dialogue of the 4 Cs": comprehensive, cooperative, critical if needed, constructive always.”
Commissioners Elżbieta Bieńkowska and Christos Stylianides visited Iran to foster economic and business, and humanitarian cooperation respectively. The Iranian Vice-Presidents, Ali Salehi and Masoumeh Ebtekar visited Brussels to advance civil nuclear cooperation and environment and climate exchanges.
On 14 November 2016 the Foreign Affairs Council adopted conclusions reiterating its "resolute commitment to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)", and expressing "its support for the development of EU-Iran relations in areas of common interest", as laid out in the April Joint Statement agreed by the High Representative and Foreign Minister Zarif. The FAC also stated its concerns with the human rights situation and advocated for a more constructive regional environment.
The second round of high level dialogue took place on 9 November in Brussels at Vice-Minister/Secretary-General level. Separate meetings were held on human rights – as agreed by High Representative and Foreign Minister Zarif – and finance and banking issues.
To facilitate further cooperation and with a view to preparing the future opening of an EU Delegation, an EU liaison team was sent to Tehran on 22 May 2016 and is co-located in the Dutch Embassy.