This week, a three day visit to Tehran by Croatia’s President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic is bound to deepen not only the Iran-Croatia ties but also Iran-EU relations, given Croatia’s EU status since 2013. Croatia was thus referred to as Iran’s “gateway” to Europe by Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, who is under pressure at home over the West’s tardy fulfillment of their obligations under the recent nuclear deal.
Although the tiny Croatia lacks significant economic and diplomatic weight compared to the EU heavies such as Germany, France, and Italy, nonetheless its president’s new Iran initiative, reflected in a number of trade and non-trade agreements signed during Grabar-Kitarvoic’s visit, carries disproportionate diplomatic and symbolic significance, bound to encourage other European countries to follow suit; already, a number of other European leaders, e.g., from Italy, Greece, Austia, Switzerland, France, etc., have visited Iran since the 2015 agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), although without making any significant breakthrough in the banking stalemate that has plagued that agreement due to the lingering non-nuclear sanctions.
Slowly but surely, however, Iran is counting on the ‘law of intensifying pressure’ from the margins, by establishing good rapport with the smaller EU countries as a prelude for more substantive connections with the larger EU economies in the (near) future. Should this strategy succeed, then it is a sure bet that a year from now President Rouhani will manage a second term in office, much to the chagrin of his hard-line opponents who are critical of the nuclear deal and the pro-west orientation of the Rouhani administration. This is, of course, a risky proposition and, should Rouhani fail to deliver the promised goods as a result of the nuclear agreement, which entails significant concessions from Iran, then his chances of winning a second term in office will diminish considerably. Much depends, of course, as to who will replace US President Obama, and in case it is the Republican candidate Donald Trump, who has taken a public stance against the JCPOA, then the latter’s prospect for survival will be rather bleak.
Europe, which has much economic interest at stake, compared to the US, must do what it can to help the survivability of the JCPOA, by taking initiatives and even taking some small risks, in order to reintegrate Iran’s in the world economy, otherwise the EU’s economic interests will suffer as well. On the positive side, Croatian President’s Iran trip is yet another fresh reminder that Iran and Europe have a great potential for the expansion of their economic ties, in light of the agreements between Iran and Croatia in the various fields of energy, transportation, foodstuff, machinery, medicine, sewage, power plants, etc., reflecting a healthy new beginning in their bilateral relations.
Not only that, President Grabar-Kitarovic has conferred with her Iranian counterpart on terrorism and security matters as well, indicating yet another dimension for bilateral cooperation. Pointing at the significance of her trip as the “first female European leader to visit Iran,” President Kitarovic has added the gender dimension, which is significant in terms of motivating other female European leaders, above all Germany’s Angela Merkel, to set aside their hesitations and visit Iran soon.
Germany has so far lagged behind other European powers in making such initiatives, perhaps due to the pressing other priorities, such as refugees and Russia, that have preoccupied Germany recently. But, since Germany is interested in exploiting the post-nuclear deal business opportunities with Iran, it makes no sense to put a Tehran visit to the back-burner indefinitely.
Indeed, the catalytic importance of President Kitarovic’s visit may be in the area of paving the way to such diplomatic initiatives by other European powers.