Wednesday, August 02, 2006

This should do it

Perhaps the strain of having to deny what my colleague has been demonstrating about the agencies’ coverage of Qana has affected them but Reuter’s has come up with a useful story about the EU and the Middle East.

As our readers will recall, the EU was left to look for a role in the Middle East and to try to create some kind of a common policy that will show the nasty brutish Americans (and, I suppose, the Israelis) that soft power is what works in the modern world.

Sadly, they are not having much luck. In the first place, they seem to be all over the place, with the Foreign Policy High Panjandrum, Javier Solana, explaining that the Spanish Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, a former EU Middle East peace envoy (clearly a man who is used to success in his negotiations), who is going to Damascus, will be speaking to Baby Assad “doubtless on behalf of all of us, including myself”. Says who? Not in my name.

Actually, not in Germany’s name either. The German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, will also be speaking to Syriran officials and suggesting that
“the Middle East Quartet - the United States, UN, Russia and EU - plus possibly Egypt should play a role in peace efforts”.
This is the latest idea the various European politicos have come up with: to draw in the two sponsors of Hezbollah, Iran and Syria and get them to exert pressure on the organization. As Reuter’s puts it quite sapiently:
“But beyond making Syrian and Iranian leaders feel respected, it is not clear what the Europeans can offer to persuade Damascus or Tehran to lean on Hezbollah guerrillas to stop firing missiles into Israel or accept eventual disarmament.”
That is not entirely correct as far as Baby Assad is concerned. The EU can offer him a deal on the whole question of Rafik al-Hariri’s assassination and on a possible economic agreement. To be fair, the EU and its members cannot deliver on the first and Assad will continue to be badgered on the subject, though this does not affect him too much.

In any case, these are very weak inducements for a complete reversal of policy. There has to be something else and the Europeans do not have anything else.

Then there is Iran, which has been moderately successful in diverting attention away from its nuclear programme but less successful in uniting that famous Arab street behind Hezbollah. By and large there have been calls for an immediate cease-fire, a few demonstrations, but fear of Iran apparently remains the strongest feeling in the Middle East. Even the Israeli raid on the Bekkaa Valley has not drawn the Syrians into the fray. As for Egypt, Jordan and the other countries, they are staying out. We shall see what tomorrow’s emergency meeting of the OIC will produce.

What of the Franco-Iranian axis? Philippe Douste-Blazy has been trying to explain his previous comment about Iran being a stabilizing factor in the region. What he really meant, he told the journalists, was that:
Iran has a share of responsibility in the current situation, so Iran can play a role in its solution, and can therefore contribute to stabilisation in the region.
It certainly does have a share of responsibility in the current situation. Rather a large share, in fact, and many people believe that the smaller Iran’s role is, the more likely there is to be a solution.


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