1043 GMT August 16, 2018
Change will not happen overnight, and maybe not even in the next few months. It will take time. It will take strong political will, vision and a lot of hard work. It will take courage, and even audacity – the very same ingredients required to reach a deal. It worked. We should be confident that the same strong determination can build a different regional framework, one based on cooperation rather than confrontation.
The heart-warming images of the young people of Iran celebrating in the streets give us good reason to be hopeful; we saw an outpouring of joy at what had just happened, mixed with the expectation of a better tomorrow. They served as a reminder that this deal is also an investment in the generations that are celebrating a different future.
We know that there is still some anxiety, in the region and beyond. But if the talks took such a long time, if they were so tough, it is precisely because we wanted and needed a strong agreement – one that could stand up to scrutiny everywhere, and through time.
I witnessed firsthand the commitment of the Iranian negotiators, under the leadership of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and the commitment of all six world powers. There was much speculation about some of the meetings in Vienna being “heated”. You would not expect anything less when the issues are so relevant. Still, we all wanted the talks to be based on mutual respect and clarity. And they truly were.
We should always keep in mind that the starting point for the negotiations was the lack of trust between Iran and the international community. In the end, we agreed on a deal that is not based on trust, but on precise commitments, on transparency and verification.
The objective of the negotiations was to address and resolve concerns about Iran’s nuclear program and to agree on verifiable long-term guarantees about the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program. Iran’s aspiration to a civilian nuclear program is fully recognized, with the assurance that “under no circumstances” will the country seek to acquire the bomb. The lifting of all sanctions will go hand in hand with the implementation of nuclear-related measures by Iran. It is a deal made to withstand the challenge of time; a good deal, with no space for interpretations or doubts. A deal that, while implemented, will allow us to build trust and lay the foundations for a new relationship.
In the next phase, my task will be to coordinate the joint commission on the agreement’s implementation. This is the immediate reason why I travel to Iran – just a fortnight after the deal was signed. But it is not just that. We now have a duty to build on the historical result we have achieved in Vienna.
The Vienna deal tells us that we all have much to earn if we choose cooperation over confrontation. Making the most out of this opportunity is entirely up to us. But nothing good will happen if we do not work hard for it. We Europeans have a long tradition of cultural and economic relationship with Iran. Before sanctions began in 2005, cooperation between our parts of the world spanned many areas, from energy to trade. But our shared interests go well beyond the economy.
Last week Europe’s foreign ministers tasked me with exploring “ways in which the EU could actively promote a more cooperative regional framework” in the wake of the Vienna deal. ISIL is spreading its vicious and apocalyptic ideology in the Middle East and beyond. There is nothing more worrisome to ISIL than cooperation between “the West” and the Muslim world, for it defies the narrative of a clash of civilizations the group is trying to revive. An alliance of civilizations can be our most powerful weapon in the fight against terror.
But this is not just about ISIL. The whole Middle East is in turmoil. Sectarianism is on the rise. We need to restart political processes to end wars. We need to get all regional powers back to the negotiating table and stop the carnage. Cooperation between Iran, its neighbors and the whole international community could open unprecedented possibilities of peace for the region, starting from Syria, Yemen and Iraq.
The skeptics will argue this is very unlikely, or impossible. The pessimists will warn of the dangers. The negotiations in Vienna showed no brain-teaser is too hard to solve as long as there is the political will to overcome the difficulties. Traveling to Iran is an obvious choice for me; as years of negotiations have come to an end, our common work is definitely not over. “It always seems impossible until it’s done."