When Iran turned to Europe more than two years ago to address the controversy surrounding its civil nuclear program, it created an opportunity. Since the second world war, Europe has lost global influence. Here was a chance for Europeans to play a more proportionate role in tackling international problems. It should have been a win-win situation whereby Iran and Europe could solve the issue but also forge an unprecedented understanding, creating an alliance for the benefit of the region as well as for international security.
Given the unjust sanctions imposed upon it by the West, Iran had to diversify its sources of energy -- a need that was in fact recognized by the West long before the 1979 revolution. But it appeared that the West was intent on preventing Iran's development in this direction. Moreover, the West placed a big question mark over Iran's legitimate right to access technology that would enable it to have a civilian program aimed at building a nuclear power plant.
According to a recent BP estimate, Iran will be an oil importer in 2024 if it continues to consume oil at present rates. This highlights the legitimate wish of the country to develop alternative sources of energy, including nuclear.
It was on this basis that Iran and the so-called EU3 -- Britain, France and Germany -- agreed to work together to address the controversy fuelled by US prejudice. The basis of the Paris agreement was two-fold. On the one hand Iran would assure the Europeans that its program would be exclusively aimed at civilian purposes, and on the other hand the EU3 would further its cooperation with Iran, including in the political, economic and nuclear fields, as well as providing firm guarantees for Iran's security. In order to build confidence between the two sides, Iran volunteered to temporarily suspend its nuclear programs and place them under the inspection of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The two sides focused on working out the guarantees acceptable to each other, even though they could turn to the IAEA for some technical expertise to define and finalize it. As the talks were making progress, the US grew nervous that it was being left behind and stepped in. The visit of the new US secretary of state to several European capitals at the beginning of the year and her rejection of Iran's right of access to civil nuclear energy under the terms of the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) seemed to influence the EU3.
The Europeans changed their tone and repeated US demands for the abandonment of all Iranian nuclear activities -- even though they knew this was neither legal under the NPT, nor acceptable to Iran.
As a result, Iran found itself in a dilemma and was suspicious of a deal between the EU3 and the US. It had wasted two years with a voluntary suspension of its activities and yet instead of gaining anything, it was being cheated of its legal rights.
But it did not give up and drafted a proposal for the gradual development of the program demanded by the Europeans and further talks. The EU3, apparently now committed to the US, did not accept. It was at this stage, when the EU3 ceased to respect the spirit of the Paris agreement, that Iran decided to restart a small part of its activities.
The Europeans countered with a proposal, in contravention of the Paris accord, that Iran should relinquish all of its rights for uranium enrichment in return for vague promises of expanded relations.