The disclosure in 2002 that Iran was in breach of its commitments under the Non-Proliferation Treaty began an international crisis that continues to this day. In 2003 Britain, Germany and France as the so-called 'E3' claimed leadership of the international response, thereby also assuming the prerogative of speaking for the EU as a whole. Although unsuccessful in resolving the crisis, and despite being superseded by the E3+3 (including the US, Russia and China), the E3 continue to claim leadership of the European component of the negotiations, insisting, moreover, that the comprehensive sanctions regime imposed by the EU on Iran remains more rigorous than that of the UN. This paper examines E3 diplomacy and efforts at leadership in responding to Iran, asking to what extent the EU has acted to constrain or facilitate these. Drawing on evidence from a range of policy documents and interviews with officials in London, Paris, Berlin and Brussels, it argues that while the three states have sought to instrumentalise the EU in developing an effective international response, their credibility as international actors is linked directly to the EU. This, in turn, has both facilitated and constrained their policy approaches. This in turn raises important questions about the ability of individual states to exercise meaningful political leadership in the context of complex multilateral organisations, and how such organisations can shape and influence the practice of foreign policy statecraft.
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