United States and Europe Differ Over Strategy on Iran (NY TIMES) By ELAINE SCIOLINO PARIS, France 01/29/05)
NEW YORK TIMES
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PARIS, Jan. 28 - President Bush´s second term has barely begun, and
Iran is already shaping up as its most serious diplomatic challenge.
But conflicting pronouncements by Mr. Bush and his national security
team have left Iran frustrated and angry about the direction of
American policy, and the Europeans more determined than ever to push
Washington to embrace their engagement strategy.
To the outside world, the administration seems divided over whether
to promote the overthrow of Iran´s Islamic Republic - perhaps by
force - or to tacitly support the approach embraced by the Europeans,
which favors negotiations and a series of incentives that would
ultimately require American participation.
"You need to get everybody to read from the same page, the Europeans
and the Americans," said Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International
Atomic Energy Agency, in an interview in Davos on Friday.
"This is not a process that is going to be solved by the Europeans
alone," he added. "The United States needs to be engaged. If you
continue to say they are going to fail before you give them a chance,
it will be a self-fulfilling policy."
France´s foreign minister, Michel Barnier, echoed those remarks in an
interview in Paris on Friday. "I cannot explain American policy to
you," he said. "That would be French arrogance and I am not someone
who is arrogant. But I think that the Americans must get used to the
fact that Europe is going to act. And in this case, without the
United States we run the risk of failure."
France, Germany and Britain - with European Union support - opened
negotiations with Iran last month that could give Iran generous
rewards on nuclear energy, trade and economic, political and security
cooperation if Iran can provide guarantees that it is not developing
a nuclear weapon.
The negotiations flow from Iran´s voluntary decision in November to
temporarily freeze its programs to make enriched uranium, which can
be used for producing energy or for making bombs.
Instead of embracing the initiative, Mr. Bush began his second term
with a sweeping pledge to defend the United States and protect its
friends "by force of arms if necessary" and a refusal to rule out
military action against Iran.
In her Senate confirmation hearings as secretary of state,
Condoleezza Rice did not say no when asked whether the goal of the
United States was to replace the Islamic Republic in Iran.
Vice President Dick Cheney, too, has put Iran at the "top of the
list" of the world´s trouble spots and suggested that Israel might
attack Iran militarily because of its nuclear program. Those words,
combined with a report in The New Yorker that secret Pentagon
operations were under way in Iran to prepare target lists for
possible military action, have left the impression - particularly in
Tehran - that Iran may be the next Iraq.
"Madness," is how Iran´s president, Mohammad Khatami, described that
approach, while his foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi, dismissed the
talk of a military strike as "psychological warfare."
Britain joined the American-led war in Iraq while France and Germany
opposed it. But when it comes to Iran, the three European countries
are unanimous in support of negotiations over any possible military
plans by the United States or Israel.
"This is a hotbed region; the last thing we need is a military
conflict in that region," Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of Germany said
in Davos on Friday. "I´m very explicit and outspoken about this
because I want everybody to know where Germany stands."
The British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, has also strongly
criticized a possible military attack on Iran as "inconceivable." Mr.
Straw told the BBC that the issue of a military option was not raised
during his talks with Ms. Rice and other officials in Washington this
But European officials say the signals emanating from Washington have
been inconsistent. At one point in her confirmation hearings, Ms.
Rice suggested that the United States implicitly supported the
European negotiating approach, saying the Bush administration
is "trying to see" if it will produce concrete results, though she
and other officials in Washington have bluntly told the Europeans
they are skeptical.
Ms. Rice also repeated a threat to ask the Security Council for
censure or possible sanctions against Iran, and specified that even a
complete halt to Iran´s nuclear and missile programs would not
translate into American support for a policy of engagement and
There were "other problems" that precluded such an
approach: "terrorism, our past, their human rights record," she said.
Further complicating the picture is that in a news conference in late
December, Mr. Bush uncharacteristically admitted the limits of
American power. "We´re relying upon others, because we´ve sanctioned
ourselves out of influence with Iran," he said, in reference to the
fact that the United States has long banned most trade and investment
with Iran and has no diplomatic relations with it.
The Europeans have made the determination that any negotiation that
slows and perhaps eventually halts Iran´s nuclear program is better
than the alternatives proposed by the United States.
"Is this approach free of risks? No," said Javier Solana, the
European Union´s foreign policy chief, in a telephone
interview. "Does it have a guarantee of success? No. But at this
point in time it is the only game in town, no doubt about that. The
other options are worse."
Some senior Iranian officials make the same point. "The West has
suspicions about our nuclear program; we have suspicions of the
Europeans," said M. Javad Zarif, the Iranian ambassador to the United
Nations and a key negotiator with the Europeans, in a telephone
interview. "We are eager to use any possible avenue to resolve those
suspicions," Dr. Zarif said. "That´s why we have had the pragmatism
to understand that the European game is a very serious game.
Washington has yet to understand that the European game is the only
game in town."
Thus far, the three sets of "working level" talks on nuclear,
economic and technological cooperation and political and security
cooperation have yielded no concrete results, European officials said.
On the contrary, in their meeting on Jan. 17, Iran insisted that it
would never abandon its goal of "maintaining" its enrichment program,
while the Europeans called such an approach "unacceptable," insisting
on the ultimate permanent cessation of the program, one of the
European participants in the meeting said.
Similarly, the most recent inspection team of the International
Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations´ nuclear monitoring
organization, to Iran this month came away with less than it hoped
Iran allowed the team to visit part of a huge military facility,
called Parchin. The Bush administration has long suspected that
testing of high explosives in one area of the site could be part of a
program to develop a nuclear warhead. Iran insists that all of its
nuclear work is for civilian purposes.
Iran was under no international treaty obligation to allow the
inspection and it stopped inspectors from visiting a bunker for high-
explosive testing of conventional weapons.
In the interview today, Dr. ElBaradei confirmed that the
International Atomic Energy Agency had asked for a return
visit. "We´re looking at testing grounds, yes," he said, adding, "We
try to go everywhere we think there might have been possible use of
nuclear material that has not been declared to us."
Meanwhile, the Europeans cannot deliver on some of the more ambitious
rewards they are discussing with Iran under their accord because they
depend on American approval.
In conversations with Ms. Rice and other administration officials
since Mr. Bush´s re-election, for example, the Europeans have tried
but failed to persuade them to accept Iran´s application to open
membership talks with the World Trade Organization.
All of Iran´s European negotiating partners have argued that one of
the best ways to promote democracy would be to force more
transparency into Iran´s economy. That could help break the
stranglehold of the vast system of government-
protected "foundations," most of them the private fiefs of powerful
clerics, European officials said.
"You cannot just ask Iran to renounce its nuclear program," said Mr.
Barnier. "You have to allow it to be a positive actor, to enter in
this constructive logic of stability. It´s a ´win-win´ deal that we
have proposed." (Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company 01/29/05)
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