Europe kowtows to US re/Iran


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

EUROPE BLINKED:  The US-EU negotiations on Iran
Phyllis Bennis
Institute for Policy Studies
March 18, 2005

Despite the Bush administration's and media spin that the U.S. and Europe both 
compromised to create a unified policy towards Iran, the reality is far more 
unbalanced. Europe -in this case the "E-3" governments of Britain, France and 
Germany, collapsed under U.S. pressure and accepted Washington's demands to 
ratchet up the pressure on Iran. To be sure, the European surrender included a 
thin veneer of political cover for London, Paris and Berlin. But the new 
"unified" trans-Atlantic approach to Iran is thoroughly rooted in the U.S. 
preference for military threats over diplomatic engagement.

The earlier U.S. rejection of Europe's effort to seriously engage Iran on the 
question of its nuclear facilities and specifically its uranium enrichment 
capacity remains largely intact. The U.S., with great fanfare, "accepted" 
Europe's approach of offering small economic carrots to Iran, but stipulated 
that such carrots would be made available only AFTER Tehran implemented a 
permanent halt to its nuclear production program. And the carrots themselves are
of limited value. Access to imported spare parts for civilian aircraft, useful 
but hardly likely to match the importance Tehran places on its nuclear program, 
would be made available only on a case-by-case basis. And allowing Iran to apply
for membership in the WTO only begins a process that takes years or decades to 
complete and would require such massive shifts in Iran's domestic economy that 
it remains unclear whether Iran even intends such a move.

What Washington did not give up was its continuing threat of military force - 
whether bombing or allowing Israel to bomb alleged nuclear facilities or 
full-scale "regime change" - against Iran. In what was called a compromise but 
was in fact a major abandonment of the European Union's longstanding commitment 
to diplomatic engagement, the E-3 not only accepted Washington's militarized 
approach but agreed to join it. Europe essentially abandoned the 
Non-Proliferation Treaty. The E-3's letter to the president of Luxembourg, 
currently presiding over the European Union, described a situation of no 
progress, despite Iran's current internationally-verified halt in enrichment 
activities. The letter also supported the U.S. intention to hand the issue over 
to the UN Security Council (which would then be pressured to authorize harsh 
multi-lateral sanctions or even military force against Iran) if Tehran does not 
accept the demand to make its current nuclear halt permanent.

A different approach, far more consistent with longstanding European commitments
to use diplomacy over force, would have been be to work for strengthening, 
rather than discarding, the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to which Iran is a 
signatory. Such an approach would include pressuring Tehran - along with every 
other non-nuclear state - to ratify and implement the NPT's optional protocol 
allowing for no-notice, highly intrusive inspections of nuclear facilities when 
the IAEA has reason for suspicion. It would also mean reconfirming and beginning
implementation of the obligations the NPT imposes on nuclear weapons states (the
U.S., Britain, France, China and Russia) to move towards full nuclear 

But instead, the U.S.-E-3 agreement brought European acquiescence to, and 
willingness to provide international legitimacy for, Washington's unilateral 
claim of the right to impose its will around the world. Europe agreed to toss 
international law out the window. As the New York Times acknowledged, without a 
hint of outrage or even unease, "the statements made clear that the West would 
not tolerate Iran's enriching uranium for civilian nuclear energy, despite 
international accords that allow it.

The reference is to the fact that the NPT allows non-nuclear states to generate 
nuclear energy including the production of enriched uranium. The NPT calls for 
inspections, by the International Atomic Energy Agency, to deal with disputes, 
and Iran has accepted those inspections

Europe, not the U.S., made all the serious concessions. Along with accepting the
U.S. mandated referral to the Security Council if Iran rejects an imposed 
permanent halt of enrichment activities and/or an imposed timetable, Europe gave
up two important positions. First, it agreed to drop its longstanding rejection 
of selectivity in enforcing nuclear non-proliferation. Specifically, Europe has 
long recognized that imposing demands for ending nuclear production on one 
country, while allowing other non-nuclear states to carry out such production, 
simply won't work. So if other non-nuclear signatories to the NPT, such as South
Korea, Brazil, South Africa or others are carrying out nuclear enrichment 
programs as allowed under the NPT without challenge, confronting Iran alone will
likely fail. Second, it appears that Europe - or at least the E-3 - now support 
Washington's assertion that even with instruments of multi-lateral arms control 
like those in the NPT, Iran's nuclear power can never be reliably surveilled or 
prevented from misuse. What this may signal is that key European powers are 
themselves prepared to abandon rather than reinforce the NPT, a long-sought goal
of the unilateralists central to the Bush administration.

Further, the White House rejected the idea of a U.S.-Iran non-aggression pact, 
something that might reduce Iran's ambition for nuclear weapons. Nor was there 
mention of even considering an end to the punitive unilateral sanctions the U.S.
has imposed on Iran since 1979. To the contrary, in an aggressive move largely 
unreported in the U.S. press, on the night before the high-profile announcements
of a new "U.S.-European unity" regarding Iran, President Bush announced he was 
extending the existing sanctions regime against Iran. According to Agence France
Presse, on the night of March 10, Bush renewed the executive order first imposed
by Bill Clinton in March 1995. In his order Bush called Iran a "significant and 
unusual threat" and accused Iran of supporting international terrorism, 
undermining the Middle East peace process, and attempting to obtain weapons of 
mass destruction. On March 13 Bush's new national security adviser, Stephen 
Hedley, told CNN that the Europeans were now also supporting Washington's claims
regarding Iran's violations of human rights and alleged support of terrorism. 
This marked a major reversal of the earlier European stance that the 
negotiations with Iran should focus solely on the nuclear threat.

Bush's renewed executive order went even further, claiming that "the actions of 
Iran contradict the interests of the U.S. in this region, and pose a lasting, 
significant threat to the national security, foreign policy and economy of the 
United States of America." But in fact, in abandoning serious diplomacy in favor
of the threats and potential use of force, it is this latest U.S.-European 
alliance against Iran that represents the potentially greatest significant 
threat to the U.S. since the illegal invasion of Iraq two years ago.

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