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European Union External Action

Iran and the EU

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. Having reached on 16 January 2016 "Implementation Day" of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran's nuclear programme (14 July 2015), the way is now opened for a renewal of broader relations.

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.

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.


Since 2003, the High Representative has led diplomatic efforts between the E3/EU+3 and Iran, which led to the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear program (JCPOA) in Vienna on 14 July 2015. The JCPOA will ensure that Iran’s nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful and if implemented, provides for the comprehensive lifting of UN, EU and US nuclear related sanctions.

On 20 July 2015, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2231(2015) regarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), agreed by Iran and the E3/EU+3. This resolution endorsed the JCPOA, allowed for certain exemptions to existing restrictive measures and defined the schedule and commitments to be undertaken by all parties to lead to the termination of restrictive measures against Iran.

Following legislative reviews of the JCPOA in the US and Iran, Adoption Day was declared on 18 October which set in motion the implementation of the provisions of the JCPOA. On Adoption Day the EU adopted the legislative framework to lift all of its nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions.

The next milestone, Implementation Day was reached on 16 January 2016 after the IAEA verified that Iran had fulfilled its commitments and the first phase of the lifting of all nuclear related sanctions became effective. On Implementation Day the EU legislative framework providing for the lifting of its economic and financial nuclear-related sanctions adopted entered into effect. UN economic and financial nuclear related sanctions and US secondary economic and financial nuclear related sanctions were also liftd. On the same day, a comprehensive Information Note on the lifting of sanctions was issued in order to provide clarity to EU business operators on the new regulatory environment.

The next stages of the JCPOA are Transition Day, which will take place 8 years after Adoption Day (i.e. in 2023) or when the IAEA has reached the Broader Conclusions that all nuclear material in Iran remains in peaceful activities, whichever is earlier, will trigger the lifting of the remaining nuclear-related sanctions, ballistic missile restrictions, and related designations.  On Termination Day, which will occur 10 years after Adoption Day (i.e. in 2025), remaining EU measures will be terminated, the UNSC will conclude consideration of the Iran nuclear issue and UNSC resolution 2231 (2015) will be terminated. 

Under the JCPOA, a Joint Commission was established consisting of all members of the E3/EU+3 and Iran. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy coordinates the work of the Joint Commission, which oversees JCPOA implementation and addresses potential problems and disputes. Under the Joint Commission a Procurement Working Group, a Technical Working Group, an Arak Working Group, and a Sanctions Working Group have been established. All groups except for the Arak Working Group are coordinated by a representative of the High Representative. The Arak Working Group is co-chaired by the United States and China.

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