Europe's Iranian Dilemma

Iran said this week it didn't feel bound by promises brokered by Germany, France and Britain to control its nuclear program. Fruitless talks in Paris, at the same time, have left Europe increasingly frustrated. A commentary by Peter Philipp

photo: AP
Iran's nuclear reactor Bushehr

​​The foreign ministers of Germany, France and Britain avoided an escalation in the row over Iran's nuclear program by convincing Tehran to sign a supplementary protocol of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) late last year.

Then the Iranians said they would allow the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna to carry out unlimited checks, and Tehran would suspend all activities to enrich uranium.

In return, the Europeans promised not to bring the "case of Iran" to the UN Security Council, but to leave it with the IAEA. And they suggested that if Iran continued to cooperate, they would provide the country with technical expertise for the peaceful use of nuclear power.

Nothing has come of it.

Even after the agreement was made, Tehran concealed its activities to build centrifuges that could be used to make weapons-grade uranium. Tehran continues to insist it has no plans to enrich uranium - to complete the process of purifying the element for use as fuel for nulear power or weapons.

Growing mistrust and irritation

But, in Europe, mistrust and irritation have grown considerably since that announcement.

Still, the Europeans have avoided drastic declarations or measures. They want to wait until the IAEA presents its next report, in September. The Europeans would only change course to the American position - to bring the case before the UN Security Council - if the report does indeed turn out to be negative.

Washington is convinced that this will happen.

Aided by Israeli claims, the United States has long accused Iran of using its nuclear program to fashion itself into a regional nuclear power, rather than pursuing peaceful means, as Tehran claims it is doing.

Washington's waning "enthusiams" in "dealing with" Iran

Washington is also the driving force behind the attempt to bring the issue before the Security Council, although, in view of developments in Iraq, the Americans' "enthusiasm" has waned somewhat. Apparently, Washington has abandoned the idea of "dealing with" Iran - the second country in its "axis of exil" - next.

In Tehran, the issue was long ago declared a question of national honor - even more so since parliamentary elections in February strengthened the conservatives' influence.

Diplomacy accompishes more than muscling

But the Iranians haven't exactly demonstrated tactical skill: Secretiveness and threats to revoke last year's agreement only increase the Europeans' mistrust and the Americans' arguments.

Less could surely achieve more: The Europeans have a strong interest in showing the United States that diplomacy accomplishes more than muscling.

Europe would certainly be sticking to its promise to Iran, which it also wants to gain as a partner in other areas. Nobody's making it easy for the Europeans.

Peter Philipp