Berlin key to unified EU sanctions against Tehran

Analysis: Rifts in Europe over how to deal with Iran's alleged quest for nuclear weapons are nothing new.

Natanz nuclear facility_311 reuters (photo credit: STR New / Reuters)
Natanz nuclear facility_311 reuters
(photo credit: STR New / Reuters)
BERLIN – Europe remains a mixed bag of foreign policies when it comes to Iran’s alleged quest for nuclear weapons.
The rifts are not new and reveal a fragmented posture at a critical juncture in Tehran’s suspected enrichment of weapons-grade uranium. On the one hand, France, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands are flexing the most potent antinuclear sanctions rhetoric. Germany, Austria and Italy are lagging behind, largely because of their large trade volumes with the Iranian government.
The stakes have been raised in the EU because the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency reported earlier this month that Iran had “carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.”
The French proposal to starve the Islamic Republic’s energy and financial sector is the maximum sanction remedy short of a total embargo of the country’s economy and ports.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy issued a statement on Monday, saying his country “proposes to the European Union and its member states, the United States, Japan and Canada and other willing countries to take the decision to immediately freeze the assets of the Iranian central bank [and] stop purchases of Iranian oil.”
While the French are still in the idea and rhetoric stages of sanctions, the UK ceased all financial transactions with Iran’s banks on Monday, including the Central Bank of Iran.
Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne captured the problem when he said, “We’re doing this to improve the security not just of the whole world, but the national security of the United Kingdom.”
While the British government has internalized that Iran represents a danger to its economy and security, Germany, Italy and Austria are still wedded to Iran’s financial system, which is immersed in its alleged nuclear and ballistic missile programs. It cannot be overemphasized enough that the United Kingdom views Iran’s jingoistic behavior not a matter limited to Israel, but as a formidable threat for global security.
In an e-mail to The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, Dr. Jonathan Spyer, a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, wrote, “The announcement by the British, along with the US and Canada, of new sanctions is testimony to the growing international awareness of the danger of a nuclear Iran and the lateness of the hour. The absence of a common European stance is predictable but troubling – especially when one considers that in the range of responses, even the British decision to cease doing business with the Iranian central bank and other financial institutions still falls far short of anything likely to cause the Iranian regime to abandon its nuclear ambitions.”
Italy’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Tuesday that it “supports with full conviction the plan for economic sanctions announced by the US administration.”
What was, however, conspicuously absent from Italy’s remarks was a statement about reducing its Iranian crude oil imports and clamping down on diplomatic ties with Iran.
Italian journalist Giulo Meotti, a leading expert on Italian- Israeli bilateral relations, told the Post in an e-mail Tuesday that “the new Italian government is rhetorically approving the new round of sanctions against Iran, but the Italian greed and economical partnership with the ayatollahs dramatically increased year after year. It’s a hypocritical position.
[Italy’s] powerhouse economy contributed to Iran’s nuclear revenue base and [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad’s financial support for his regime’s satellite terror entities, Hezbollah and Hamas.”
Austria’s Foreign Ministry has stayed mum on new sanctions.
Germany, which just sold Chancellor Angela Merkel’s luxury jet to a sanctioned Iranian airline, Mahan Air, is arguably the weakest sanctions advocate among the major European economic powers.
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has shown no interest in severing Germany’s economy from Iran’s financial system.
Critics say he and Merkel still fail to grasp that Iran presents a grave danger to their country’s security.
Writing from Iraq, German Mideast expert Thomas von der Osten-Sacken told the Post that “Germany must finally end its close contacts with Iran and join the hard sanctions called for by Canada against Iran’s financial institutions... It is high time to finally begin to treat the regime as illegitimate and push for free and fair elections like in the case of Syria.”
According to a report in the Toronto-based National Post, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said in a statement Monday, “We are taking aggressive action to cover the known leadership of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and block virtually all transactions with Iran, including those with the central bank, while providing an exemption allowing Iranian-Canadians to send some money to loved ones back in their home country.”
Klaus Faber, a prominent member of Germany’s Social Democratic Party and member of an NGO fighting modern anti-Semitism in the Federal Republic, told The Jerusalem Post that “Germany should join the new sharp sanctions against a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic of Iran like those proposed in the USA, Great Britain, France and Canada. The leading representatives of the Islamic Republic express themselves anti-Semitically, deny the Holocaust, violate fundamental human rights, threaten Israel with extermination and are preparing a new genocide.”
The lack of a coherent EU policy, particularly a soggy German approach toward sanctions, has prompted irritation from Iranian dissidents like Dr. Kazem Moussavi in Berlin.
Sanctions, he told the Post, should aim to help the “freedom movement” in Iran to bring about a “democratic change.” He said the new nuclear watchdog report showed that the decade-long German and European policies offering Tehran concessions in the hope that the mullahs would end their atomic project and the country’s repressive policies “turned out to be worthless.”
Moussavi called for Germany to join France and the UK and sanction the “anti-Semitic terror regime.”
The litmus test for a unified EU posture toward Iran will be determined by Berlin. The consensus among experts and Iranian dissidents is that the Merkel administration is failing miserably to ramp up the economic pressure on Iran’s government.