Forget about diplomacy with Iran

Iran has become the hottest ticket in town. Not a day goes by without a headline, book, conference or declaration by a world leader on Iran. For the moment, nothing has been getting more attention than the negotiations between Iran and the EU—3 (France, Germany and the UK), to solve the nuclear issue.
   
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to ask Mrs Ana Palacio, ex Spanish Foreign Minister in the Aznar government, about Iran and the EU—3. Interestingly, she was very forceful in expressing her rejection of the EU—3 as a representative of the European Union. The EU—3 is 'a strange animal' and 'it is a hijacking of the label Europe' she said. And indeed in this regard, Mrs Palacio could not be more right. It is a total sham to have three countries arbitrarily picked to speak for the other 22 members of the Union.

Especially when two of them —France and Germany— happen to be the two largest trade partners of Iran. In light of this, if no deal is brokered, then France and Germany are going to be very reluctant to send the issue to the United Nations Security Council because of the ensuing risk of losing juicy contracts with the mullahs' regime. Mrs Palacio agreed with that assertion and added: 'knowing the Iranians and other data, I am not honestly optimistic on reaching a deal.' She nonetheless said: 'we should give it a chance' just only because of the new consensus between the EU—3 and the USA. 

But it's been already two years that the EU—3 has been negotiating with Iran and almost nothing concrete came out of this process. Why should we be so pessimistic about a diplomatic solution?

First and foremost, each time the EU or the US, for that matter, offered a carrot, like for example the US offer of a WTO seat for Iran, Tehran swiftly and forcefully refused. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi recently confirmed this when he declared:  'Our nuclear rights cannot be exchanged for any economic incentives.'

But more than anything, the real deal killer is that Iranians do not seem eager to sign any kind of agreements with European nations that they cannot trust. Indeed, about two months ago, 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.

It looks like Iran and the EU—3 agree on one thing though: make the negotiations last as long as possible. For Iran, it is a way to avoid a heads—on confrontation with Washington; and for Europe it postpones almost indefinitely any UN Security Council involvement. 

Second, because of the enormous commercial interests at stake, the EU— 3 cannot be viewed as an honest broker. And the young Iranians who were demonstrating on March 15 and burnt the French flag, knew that quite well. France and Germany are considered very good friends of the regime. And rightly so.

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 %. Indeed France's investments alone amount to a staggering $35 Billion, not including the very expensive oil and gas ventures. Also, recently the French Ambassador to Iran, Francois Nicoullaud, boasted about the ever— increasing presence of French companies in Iran. Additionnally, these two countries provide 100% of Iranian imports of industrial machines and equipment. The Iranian market is all the more important for Germany and France today because they have lost their lucrative contracts in Iraq.
But keep in mind that even if the EU—3 accepted going to the United Nations Security Council, China and Russia would most probably veto any resolutions punishing Iran — for the same reason: China is the third largest exporter to Iran, and Russia the seventh.

Last week, an Iranian opposition group, The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), sternly warned that the Arak nuclear plant could be up and running by 2007. Bruno Tertrais, a French expert at the Foundation for Strategic Research, agreed on the timing and added that the Arak reactor will be able to produce high—grade military plutonium.

Time is running out and Iran is getting closer by the day to getting the Bomb. The diplomatic option is dead in the water. According to many military experts, the military option is not looking too good either, because of bad intelligence assets on the grounds, dispersed underground sites and potential disastrous repercussions. Two recently formed Washington DC think tanks, the Iran Freedom Foundation and the Iran Policy Committee (IPC), are advocating a third solution: regime change initiated by Iranians. At a recent AIPAC conference, Defense expert Richard Perle advocated a mix of tough economic and diplomatic sanctions combined with help to dissidents. This looks like the only realistic option to solve this thorny, dangerous and most pressing issue.

Olivier Guitta is a freelance writer specializing in the Middle East and Europe.

Iran has become the hottest ticket in town. Not a day goes by without a headline, book, conference or declaration by a world leader on Iran. For the moment, nothing has been getting more attention than the negotiations between Iran and the EU—3 (France, Germany and the UK), to solve the nuclear issue.
   
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to ask Mrs Ana Palacio, ex Spanish Foreign Minister in the Aznar government, about Iran and the EU—3. Interestingly, she was very forceful in expressing her rejection of the EU—3 as a representative of the European Union. The EU—3 is 'a strange animal' and 'it is a hijacking of the label Europe' she said. And indeed in this regard, Mrs Palacio could not be more right. It is a total sham to have three countries arbitrarily picked to speak for the other 22 members of the Union.

Especially when two of them —France and Germany— happen to be the two largest trade partners of Iran. In light of this, if no deal is brokered, then France and Germany are going to be very reluctant to send the issue to the United Nations Security Council because of the ensuing risk of losing juicy contracts with the mullahs' regime. Mrs Palacio agreed with that assertion and added: 'knowing the Iranians and other data, I am not honestly optimistic on reaching a deal.' She nonetheless said: 'we should give it a chance' just only because of the new consensus between the EU—3 and the USA. 

But it's been already two years that the EU—3 has been negotiating with Iran and almost nothing concrete came out of this process. Why should we be so pessimistic about a diplomatic solution?

First and foremost, each time the EU or the US, for that matter, offered a carrot, like for example the US offer of a WTO seat for Iran, Tehran swiftly and forcefully refused. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi recently confirmed this when he declared:  'Our nuclear rights cannot be exchanged for any economic incentives.'

But more than anything, the real deal killer is that Iranians do not seem eager to sign any kind of agreements with European nations that they cannot trust. Indeed, about two months ago, 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.

It looks like Iran and the EU—3 agree on one thing though: make the negotiations last as long as possible. For Iran, it is a way to avoid a heads—on confrontation with Washington; and for Europe it postpones almost indefinitely any UN Security Council involvement. 

Second, because of the enormous commercial interests at stake, the EU— 3 cannot be viewed as an honest broker. And the young Iranians who were demonstrating on March 15 and burnt the French flag, knew that quite well. France and Germany are considered very good friends of the regime. And rightly so.

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 %. Indeed France's investments alone amount to a staggering $35 Billion, not including the very expensive oil and gas ventures. Also, recently the French Ambassador to Iran, Francois Nicoullaud, boasted about the ever— increasing presence of French companies in Iran. Additionnally, these two countries provide 100% of Iranian imports of industrial machines and equipment. The Iranian market is all the more important for Germany and France today because they have lost their lucrative contracts in Iraq.
But keep in mind that even if the EU—3 accepted going to the United Nations Security Council, China and Russia would most probably veto any resolutions punishing Iran — for the same reason: China is the third largest exporter to Iran, and Russia the seventh.

Last week, an Iranian opposition group, The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), sternly warned that the Arak nuclear plant could be up and running by 2007. Bruno Tertrais, a French expert at the Foundation for Strategic Research, agreed on the timing and added that the Arak reactor will be able to produce high—grade military plutonium.

Time is running out and Iran is getting closer by the day to getting the Bomb. The diplomatic option is dead in the water. According to many military experts, the military option is not looking too good either, because of bad intelligence assets on the grounds, dispersed underground sites and potential disastrous repercussions. Two recently formed Washington DC think tanks, the Iran Freedom Foundation and the Iran Policy Committee (IPC), are advocating a third solution: regime change initiated by Iranians. At a recent AIPAC conference, Defense expert Richard Perle advocated a mix of tough economic and diplomatic sanctions combined with help to dissidents. This looks like the only realistic option to solve this thorny, dangerous and most pressing issue.

Olivier Guitta is a freelance writer specializing in the Middle East and Europe.