The EU Parliament Visits Iran -- An Important Step for Diplomacy

10/30/2013 08:56 am ET | Updated Dec 30, 2013

Diplomacy is being reawakened fast. Since the Iranian people elected Hassan Rouhani in the June elections, significant openings in Iran have emerged. And its not just President Obama who has taken advantage of this unexpected turn of events -- for the first time since 2007, a delegation from the EU parliament visited Iran last week and held what was described as positive discussions. The range of problem areas between the West and Iran are extensive -- the nuclear issue, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and human rights in Iran just to name a few.

And none of them can be resolved or effectively addressed unless the two sides talk to each other.

S&D Chair Hannes Swoboda led the delegation to Iran. As supporters of diplomacy and firm believers that it provides the best path to resolve the nuclear issue and to push the Iranian government in the right direction on human rights, I wrote the following letter to MP Swoboda to thank him for his leadership. You can view the letter below:

The Honorable Hannes Swoboda October 29, 2013
Parlement européen
Atrium 05K002 60, rue Wiertz
Wiertzstraat 60 B-1047 Bruxelles

Dear Mr. Swoboda,

I am writing to applaud your efforts in leading an official delegation of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) to Iran, the first delegation from the European Parliament to visit Iran since 2007. Your visit was a major step to chip away at the institutionalized distrust between Iran and the West that has perpetuated the ongoing nuclear standoff and worsened the human rights situation in Iran.

The people of Iran have long suffered under the dual pressures of sanctions and a repressive government. Now, with the result of the recent Iranian elections, we can't turn our back on the critical opportunity the Iranian people have helped create to resolve the nuclear issue, ease the harsh security environment and improve the country's standing in the world. While individuals in favor of the unsustainable status quo have criticized your visit, it is clear that the goals of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran and improving human rights in Iran are only attainable through diplomacy and dialogue. Your visit helped to build connections and trust, key requirements for any improvement in relations.

In particular, your visit comes amid tentative signs of hope for improved human rights in Iran. President Rouhani campaigned on easing Iran's security environment, including by releasing political prisoners. In the first few months of his term, Rouhani has followed through by releasing several dozen prisoners of conscience including human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh. But this is far from enough. Meeting directly with officials in Iran does not reward the Iranian government; it creates an opportunity to press government officials directly to institute systemic changes that will improve the situation for human rights defenders and ordinary Iranians.

Further, your comments welcoming the removal of sanctions on Iran -- in a step by step fashion as part of a nuclear agreement -- also help to build the political space necessary for a deal. Just as the West questions Iran's ability to make concessions, Iran also questions whether the European Union and the United States are willing and able to lift sanctions. President Rouhani, given his experience as lead nuclear negotiator for Iran between 2003 and 2005, remembers well that it was the West that failed to respond to Iran's suspension of enrichment and adoption of the IAEA's Additional Protocol with concessions of their own. Rouhani paid a stiff political cost for agreeing to concessions without forthcoming steps from the West and will be skeptical of making the first move. By voicing your support for sanctions relief, you help create confidence that a deal is attainable.

Your delegation's trip to Iran deserves high praise and should serve as a model for other nations, including the United States. Failure to understand both Iran and the effect of sanctions on the Iranian people helps to facilitate the continuation of counterproductive, confrontational policies on both sides of the Atlantic. As you know, dialogue is the only way to break out of the policy of mutual escalation and distrust, and there are many experts, organizations and individuals who support your pragmatic approach.

Thank you again, and I look forward to additional efforts from the European Parliament and the S&D to create hope and new opportunities for Iran and the West.


Trita Parsi, PhD