EU promises 'robust' action against Iran

German official: The next action will be more than the last UNSC resolution. It won't be a repetition.

UNSC 224 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
UNSC 224 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
European diplomats here promised "robust" action from the European Union on Iran and said the EU will enact its own sanctions if the UN Security Council approves a weak third resolution, despite a US intelligence report saying Iran halted its nuclear weapons program four years ago. Emissaries from Britain, France and Germany, speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy Thursday, said the intelligence assessment would do virtually nothing to change European policy toward Iran and that the EU would soon be indicating continued commitment to preventing a nuclear Iran. The US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), released last Monday, found that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 even as Teheran continues to enrich uranium in defiance of the international community. Israel is encouraged by the strong support of the Europeans despite fallout from the NIE, which has led analysts here to conclude that politically, America can no longer use the military option against Iran. The lack of a military threat, along with the intelligence findings themselves, will hinder efforts to pass further sanctions at the UN. A third such resolution has been under consideration for months. Israel couldn't ask for more from the Europeans, one Israeli official told The Jerusalem Post. However, the official disagreed with their assessment that the NIE hadn't changed the reality of policy options for dealing with Iran. Israel is greatly concerned about how the NIE has scaled back the international calculus on Iran, especially for countries like Russia and China, which were already balking at toughening measures against the Islamic Republic. Though some representatives to the UN have talked about a new resolution in January, Washington sources are expecting it to be pushed back to at least February. And though Israel and the United States were hoping for substantial new measures - such as a strong arms embargo and major focus on the energy sector - prospects for that, already dim, appear to have diminished considerably. At the same time, Israel thinks another sanctions resolution, even a weak one, would be a positive sign of continued international solidarity despite the NIE's assessment. But the Europeans suggested a third resolution wouldn't be an empty one. Hans-Peter Hinrichsen, first secretary for political affairs at the German Embassy in Washington, said he wouldn't speculate too much on the details of a resolution still under negotiation, but did say, "The impression is that it will be more than the last Security Council resolution. It will not simply be a repetition." He said the Europeans expected it to pass at some point, but added that if it didn't or if it was unsatisfactory, they would take their own steps. "We don't want EU sanctions to damage the United Nations Security Council process. But if we see that process is not effective, or we don't see a Security Council resolution," he said, "or in case it should be too weak or whatever, the EU will take decisions how it will enact and react to that. And I think there is a certain amount of consensus that the EU will have to go further then and to act on its own." The French Embassy's Counselor Nicolas Roche backed Hinrichsen's comments and said that "discussions have already gone on in the EU on the different ways we can reinforce this sanctions mechanism." Israelis and other observers had expressed concern that those earlier conversations could be reevaluated, and the policy altered, after the NIE was published. And despite the European position, estimations here are that a third Security Council resolution, should it pass, will merely expand the list of sanctions of people and entities and other measures in keeping with what's already contained in the first two resolutions. Unilateral EU sanctions could go farther, Western sources said, including more action on arms. The European diplomats stressed that despite the findings of the NIE, nothing had changed in their assessment of Iranian activities, meaning their policies to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon should not change either. Neil Crompton, political counselor at the UK's embassy in Washington, pointed to British concerns centering on Iran's overt enrichment program - which continues unabated, as the report notes - and not the covert program, since the enriched uranium could be used for nefarious purposes in the future. The German envoy also pointed to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's continuing threats toward Israel. "We're on much the same track that we were two weeks ago. The NIE has created a lot of noise in Washington. It's created less noise in our capitals. In a sense we think it validates our approach and we'll continue with that approach," said Crompton. Notwithstanding the determined stance of the EU governments, the report certainly did elicit strong reactions from the Europeans, though, many of whom questioned why the US came out with information that was sure to be welcomed by Iran - as it has been. "It's just dumbfoundedness," was how one former US government official still in close contact with Europeans on the issue described it. "The British and French are really pissed. In general in Europe people don't understand what happened," he said. "They don't understand how the American government could be as incompetent as it seems." Not only have Europeans privately questioned why the US would do something that seemed to undermine its own agenda - issuing a report that would decrease the options on Iran and strength of international criticism toward the regime - but they have expressed frustration at how the report undermines their efforts, too. Unlike American businesses, several major European companies trade with Iran, making sanctions efforts less politically popular in some places. Europeans had taken risky steps under pressure from America, and they see America hurting their position. At the same time, Crompton said there could be diplomatic payoffs from the NIE. "Those arguments work both ways in some countries," he said. "There's always been concern that a move to proceed with sanctions will lead inevitably to military action. To the extent that the military option has been reduced, that might encourage some countries, particularly in Europe, to consider sanctions."