February 7, 2005
Iranian impasseBy Olivier Guitta
Iran is slowly but surely becoming the hottest topic in world affairs.
Not a single days goes by without reactions from the US, Europe, Russia or Israel regarding the Iranian nuclear program. It's already been two years since the 'EU 3' nations — France, Germany and the UK — became actively involved in negotiations with the Iranians. But to no avail, yet.
Will negotiations alone solve this burning question?
Unfortunately, it does not look like it. The Europeans have a strange sense of what diplomacy is: continuously offering carrots and forgetting the sticks. A disturbing display of this tendency could be found in various statements from European officials last week: in summary, there is no military option on the table to solve the Iranian issue. For instance, Belan Anda, spokesman of the German government, said that 'There is no alternative' to the negotiations in process to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
In fact, in adopting this stance and pushing aside the military option, the EU 3 are almost killing all chance of a peaceful resolution. If Iran does not feel coerced to give up its nuclear program, why would they do it? Especially when they can get 'carrots' from the EU and keep their nukes at the same time!
But more than anything, the real deal killer is that Iranians do not seem eager to sign any kinds of agreements with European nations that they cannot trust. Indeed in a mind—boggling and very unpublicized op—ed in the French left—wing daily Le Monde, Akbar Etemad, the ex President of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, wrote about the mistrust Iran feels towards the EU 3 nations.
According to Etemad, in the past, the three countries reneged on their previous agreements. Therefore there is no reason to believe that this time they are sincere and ready to abide by the terms of a future agreement. For instance, he points out Germany's twenty—five year refusal to export the full equipment — worth billions of dollars — for the two nuclear facilities in Busher, which was paid for in full. Also, Etemad complains that France 'has refused Iran the right to enrich its uranium' at a Eurodif facility, even though Iran took a very costly 10% financial participation in Eurodif. Finally, the UK is blamed for joining the 'refusal front' by stopping a uranium shipping transiting through England.
So for Etemad, by causing very important financial losses to Iran — through not honoring the signed contracts — and postponing important advances of Iran's nuclear program, the Europeans forced Iran to work tirelessly and quickly on its own to master the required know—how for a successful nuclear program. He thereby acknowledges that the advances have been attained.
Regarding nuclear weapons capability, Etemad writes: 'There is currently no lead or material proof to conclude that Iran is trying to get nuclear weapons.'
This, in itself, is a veiled acknowledgment that Iran is indeed trying to become a nuclear power. Also, he goes on, explaining that Europeans are now engaging Iran and offering very appealing agreements only because they are scared of a nuclear Iran. Incidentally, he thinks that the negotiations are going to be very difficult and very long and is doubtful that Iran is going to be patient enough to wait for this outcome.
So, here you have it: Iran is reversing the negotiators' roles: instead of Iran proving it is sincere about not pursuing an offensive nuclear program, it is for the Europeans to show their good faith.
If Etemad represents in any way Tehran's line of conduct, then the EU 3 should realize that negotiations are going nowhere, and that they have wasted two years while Iran was advancing its program. Henry Sokolski, the executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, in an interview with Le Monde, characterized the Europeans as 'cynics' rather than as na�ve, because they know perfectly well what is going on in Iran. He also adds that Europeans are convinced that were they to use any kind of sanctions against Iran, then World War III would ensue and it would cement America's position as the master of the world.
It is therefore the US role to convince Europeans to move quickly towards sanctions. But this is easier said than done. As in Iraq before Saddam Hussein's fall, Germany and France happen to be the two largest suppliers of goods to Iran: according to the CIA World Factbook, in 2003, Germany is first, supplying 11% of Iran's imports, France second with 8.6%.
For instance, the French oil company Total, has a $2 billion project into an Iran gas venture. The Iranian market is all the more important for Germany and France today because they have lost their lucrative contracts in Iraq. They are therefore not going to be ready to give up the jobs and the money so easily. Their economies are already badly limping, and unemployment is roughly double American levels.
Indeed, it is going to be very difficult to bring the Europeans on board for economic and diplomatic sanctions. And even if we were to get the Europeans' approval and wanted to go through the United Nations Security Council, China and Russia would most probably veto any resolutions punishing Iran. In fact, China is the third largest exporter to Iran, and Russia the seventh. But more importantly Russia is the alleged nuclear material provider.
The diplomatic route does not look like a 'cakewalk' but worldwide sanctions are the only way to avoid a military action.
It looks like that the Bush Administration's strategy to repeatedly mention a possible military action by the US or Israel — as Vice President Cheney did in a recent interview — is a message sent as much to the Europeans as to the Iranians.
It is high time that the Europeans realized the dangers of a nuclear Iran, especially for them, since it has been widely reported that the new generation of Iranians missiles can now reach Europe. They must accept the sanctions route now, even if it means the loss of juicy contracts.
Olivier Guitta is a freelance writer specialized in the Middle East and Europe.