Thursday, November 18, 2004

European weakness on Iran

Having listened to Christopher Huhne yesterday pontificating about how much more influential the UK was when it cast its lot in with the EU, it is singularly ironic that the Telegraph today should run a leader on the Iran situation with these opening words:

There has always been something suspect about European mediation over Iran's nuclear programme. This is not to deny that the EU trio (Britain, France and Germany) is sincere in wishing to prevent Teheran from acquiring nuclear arms. It lies, rather, in its ineffectiveness.
What we have here is another episode in the US "hawk" versus the European "dove" saga, with the UK this time pulled in to bat with the "Europeans", pushing for the soft, negotiated solution as against the more robust line of the Bush administration which wanted to report Iran to the UN, preparatory to seeking sanctions against this country unless it abandoned its attempts to produce nuclear weapons.

It seems that the net effect of the European stance has been to dilute the impact of Western pressure, demonstrating not strength but weakness – a fatal lack of resolve which the Iranian government has been adept at exploiting. On the face of it, though, Teheran has accepted a temporary suspension of uranium enrichment in return for a series of economic incentives offered by the EU, but even this deal could well come unstuck over differing interpretations of what it entails.

While the Europeans faff around, however, the Washington Post and other sources report that US has intelligence that Iran is working to adapt missiles to deliver a nuclear weapon, further evidence that the Islamic republic is determined to acquire a nuclear bomb. This comes from secretary of state Colin Powell and, separately, an Iranian opposition exile group in Paris that is claiming that Iran is enriching uranium at a secret military facility unknown to UN weapons inspectors.

According to this exile group, the secret facility is located in Nour in the Lavizan district of northwest Tehran, disguised as an affluent villa suburb covered in groves and gardens under which the underground site is active. So much for the "softly-softly" European approach.

Powell is in no doubt about eventual Iranian intentions, stating that they are working towards ballistic missile delivery of their own nuclear bomb which, if true, is something that neither the US nor Israel would be prepared to tolerate.

As observed in our recent posting on this, all the Europeans might have achieved is to set up Israel to repeat its tactics against Iraq's French-built Osirak reactor in 1981, when an air strike took out the facility before it became operational.

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