Pro-Iran Deal Mogherini ends five years as EU Foreign policy chief

Mogherini was one of the key voices in Europe and among the most high-profile supporters of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or Iran Deal.

European Union flags fly near the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, October 4, 2019 (photo credit: YVES HERMAN/REUTERS)
European Union flags fly near the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, October 4, 2019
(photo credit: YVES HERMAN/REUTERS)
Federica Mogherini, who was all smiles when she frequently met with Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif over the last five years, has ended her mandate as the EU High Representative for Foreign Policy and Security.
The former Italian foreign minister tweeted thanks to those who helped contribute to making the European Union a pillar of multilateralism and a defender of human rights. However, as foreign policy chief she was often criticized for being soft on Iran and Russia, while being harshly critical of Israel.
Mogherini was one of the key voices in Europe and among the most high-profile supporters of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known as the Iran Deal. After the US left the deal in May 2018, Mogherini worked tirelessly not only to preserve the European commitments to Iran, but also to excuse Iran’s ratcheting up of tensions. She met in September in New York with ministers from the European Union, including France, the UK, Germany as well as with representatives from China, Russia and Iran, in what was called the EU+2 framework. Mogherini said she welcomed efforts that were made to open channels of dialogue to respect the JCPOA. “We will continue to work together with the unity of purpose to try and preserve it,” she said at the time.
She was frequently seen with Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in news conferences, where she appeared to joke, laugh and smile with the Iranian official, a stark comparison to her more serious tone with other world leaders.
But even with other world leaders – in contrast to her claims to care about human rights – the EU foreign policy chief appeared to be enthralled by authoritarians. This concern had been raised by an article at Brookings in 2014, noting she was the “wrong choice for Europe.” At the time the article noted that eastern European states had objected to Mogherini “due to concerns that she was too soft on Russia and lacked foreign policy experience.” Lithuania even appeared to view her as “pro-Kremlin.”
Mogherini came to Italy’s parliament in 2008 with the center-left. She was appointed foreign minister in 2014, and soon after she was off to the EU to run foreign policy, but in 2017 ran up against European security experts and parliamentarians from 21 countries who slammed her for not doing enough to counter Russian disinformation campaigns. The concerns were raised throughout 2017, with an article at Politico noting that activists and foreign ministries across Europe were concerned that Mogherini was soft on Russia.
She presided over a period of crises in Europe, from the conflict in Ukraine that pitted pro-EU forces against Russia, to the migration crisis of 2015 and the rise of populism. Under Mogherini, the EU transferred billions of Euros to Turkey to keep refugees from coming to Europe. The latest transfer was a $1.7 billion grant to Turkey in March. Mogherini didn’t give in on every demand by foreign powers threatening Europe. She released a statement warning Turkey against its “unilateral action” when Turkey invaded Syria in October and attacked Kurdish fighters.
ON IRAN, however, Mogherini was obsessed with keeping the JCPOA intact. Even as Iran ramped up threats to enrich uranium and stockpile material far beyond the 2015 agreement, Mogherini scrambled to find a solution. She said in July that she regretted Iran’s decisions and hoped Tehran would reverse them.
In Helsinki in August, Mogherini said her role was to preserve the full implementation of the agreements. Even as Iran broke the regulations on stockpiling low-enriched uranium and began to work toward new enrichment and new centrifuges, the EU chief said there was momentum to somehow appease Iran into stopping its enrichment drive.
“The dispute resolution mechanism is the mechanism foreseen in case of significant non-compliance,” Mogherini said in Brussels in July. Far from the promises of snapback sanctions, European countries wanted to find a way to meet Iran’s demands. In May, Iran gave Europe an ultimatum of 60 days. The European Council on Foreign Relations said that Europe and Iran could prioritize a special mechanism for trade to get around US sanctions called INSTEX, which included discussions on how to link it to China and India.
Despite the claims that there were only 60 days to save the deal, by November EU countries were still working to save it. This appears to be Mogherini’s legacy, and she wanted it preserved for her departure and the end of her five-year mandate. Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell, who will take over for Mogherini, appears to channel her views on Iran’s deviations from the agreement not being too significant.
The EU is transitioning from the pre-2014 era to a new era after Mogherini, in which Borrell foresees it using the “language of power” more. He says this isn’t what the EU wanted, but the challenging environment has forced Europe’s hand. This will mean positioning Europe between the US and China on trade issues, and also working with Iran or Russia, while dealing with changes in Africa that affect Europe.
Under Mogherini, Zarif always had a welcome in Europe, greeted with the kind of jovial happiness that appears reserved for allies. This is part of the message to Iran, it is not a message related to human rights abuses, such as the hundreds killed in protests last month.
Instead, countries are rushing to join the INSTEX “barter mechanism” for circumventing US sanctions. France, Germany, the UK, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Holland, Norway and Sweden are already on board. Support for INSTEX may be among Mogherini’s main legacies. She said in January that it was essential alongside the listing of sanctions on Iran. “The instrument launched today will provide economic operators with the necessary framework to pursue legitimate trade with Iran,” she said then.
Mogherini was a frequent critic of Israeli policy. She slammed Israeli “settlements” on November 18, calling on Israel to end “settlement activity, in line with its obligations as an occupying power.”
She met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a news conference in Belgium in October 2017, but did not appear to have as positive a relationship with Israeli officials as she did with Zarif. In July 2018, she also attacked Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan after comments by Israel critiquing EU funding of various NGOs in the Palestinian areas. She also canceled a trip to Israel in 2018.
Mogherini didn’t reserve her criticism only for Israel, but was also tough on Turkey in statements in February 2018, critiquing Turkey for human rights abuses.
Mogherini’s departure may be more symbolic than substantive. Her successor will likely continue her policies. The EU is such a large collection of different states that it has never set upon having a truly robust foreign policy or security policy. However, it does work on multilateral avenues to do things like support the Iran Deal and pay Turkey to keep refugees away. This, and other policies, such as its critique of Israel, has long-term ramifications.