Jan 26, 2018

The ‘Carrot & Stick’ Policy: Iran’s Attitude in Foreign Relations

For a long time now, the ‘carrot and stick’ policy has been Iran’s principal way to deal with the demands of the Iranian population: on one hand promises of minor reforms, but on the other threats that greater reform ambitions would lead to insecurity and loss of economic stability. More recently, this policy has also been implemented in regards to the ongoing war in Syria. How does this attitude work outside of Iran and more specifically in the European Parliament and what effects can this have on the EU’s approach to the Islamic Republic?

Mr Alaeddin Boroujerdi, Chairman of the Iranian Committee for Foreign Policy and National Security, attended two exchanges of views with the European Parliament on 23-24 January 2018. Instead of using this opportunity to question Iran’s policies in the Middle East and abroad in general, the European Parliament allowed him to use these meetings as a platform to spread Iranian propaganda and apply once again this ‘carrot & stick’ policy in Europe.

Thanks to strong civil society and social awareness in Europe, using national pride based on past empires and long-gone history is not particularly effective in diplomacy and foreign affairs. However, Iranian foreign policy is still counting on the country’s historical weight in diplomacy.

After two world wars that devastated Europe, respecting diversity and dialogue is one of Europe’s main principles. To the contrary in Iran historical pride and assimilation policies are still maintained , and at the same time, while all religious and national minorities are suffering in Iran, the government tries to take credit for the fact of having saved Jews once in history.

Based on this approach, the head of the Iranian delegation Mr Boroujerdi started his speech by mentioning the historical Persian/Arian empire and “Persepolis”, historical site in Shiraz, to feed his country’s own ego in front of the EU, a structure that is instead supposedly built on the principle of equality and on human rights and democracy rather than fake nationalism.

As this pride is essential for Iranian politicians, Mr Alaeddin Boroujerdi used it in Brussels as well, by stating: “How can 28 European countries not be independent in dealing with Iran and just blindly follow Trump’s steps? The United States are clearly seeking their own benefit - why are you Europeans not doing the same?”

He did not saw any problem when the JCPOA was agreed under the presidency of Barack Obama – at that stage Europe did not need to have pride.

 Mr Boroujerdi continued by waving the ‘carrot’ of economic deals with Iran, mentioning projects worth billions of dollars such as 20 nuclear power stations, hinting to the fact that China and Russia are also lining up for these projects and referring to the fact that China is currently winning all Iranian economical deals.

Unfortunately, Europe overlooks the fact that China is one of the reasons behind the environmental crisis in Iran. Chinese development methods are not sustainable and cannot be used as threat to Europe. China has a big role in Iran’s oil and gas industry, and it extracts oil in the cheapest way by drying out lakes and marshlands. Khuzestan, a southern province rich in oil, is suffering from severe air pollution.  

By mentioning a recent five-billion economic deal with Italy and Airbus deals with France, Mr Boroujerdi also put Europeans in competition among themselves for business deals. “As said, the ball is with you” he was suggesting that others should follow the Italian steps.

He later spoke about Afghanistan, a neighbouring country that produces 8000 tons of opium. He frequently said that drug smugglers use Iran only as a transit point with the goal to reach Europe and that Iran is sacrificing its own security forces to defend young Europeans by preventing drugs from reaching Europe and transforming Europe in a “war zone”, as he described. This too can be seen as a way to wave his ‘stick’, implicitly threatening to open the gate of drugs deal to Europe.

Despite intelligence reports on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)’s involvement in the drug trade, he justified the high number of executions in Iran, second country after China and first country per capita, by claiming that most executions are connected to drug crimes.

To prevent any criticism on Iran’s interference in Syria, he waved the refugee card, claiming that Iran is behind Syria’s relative stability and without it, terrorists would come to Europe.

It is not the first time that Iran or one of its allies threatens Europe with terrorist attacks. in 2011, even Ahmad Hassoun, Grand Mufti of Syria, had issued a similar threat, suggesting that the West would be “full of terrorists” if it tried to interfere in Syria.

Mr Alaeddin Boroujerdi, even mentioned that Iranians are unemployed and Afghanis are occupying jobs belonging to Iranian workers. He claimed that if the Iranian government was pragmatic, it would deport those “refugees” but Iran is not like Europe, it is “nice” with refugees and respect their human rights.

Disregarding the reports and information about Afghani refugees been recruited for the war in Syria.

Later Mr Boroujerdi talked about the hostility with protesters of police in Brussels and Paris in some incidents, disregarding the fact that due to freedom of media and circulation of the information such news reach the public, unlike in Iran, where freedom of press is limited and journalists are imprisoned.   

Josef Weidenholzer MEP admitted that he has a different point of view on the demonstrations and appreciated Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s commitment to the population’s right to demonstrate. Mr Weidenholzer also encouraged the EU to lift sanctions and introduce facilitations on the banking process. He expressed his gratitude for the Iranian government’s efforts in controlling the wave of refugees.

Seán Kelly MEP gave his analysis of the uprising in Iran as an expression of the hopes and frustration of the Iranian population after the nuclear deal and the government’s failure to meet its promises. He also asked how Europe can help Iran to fulfil the aspirations of Iranian young people.

Cornelia Ernst MEP emphasised the fact that Europe refuses any further sanctions towards Iran and Europe is committed to keep the JCPOA, but she asked if there any investigations were being conducted by Iranian Parliament to follow up to the arrests and deaths in detention centres. 

At the end of the day, paradoxically  instead of Iran, it was Europe who had to defend itself during the debate.