- The Washington Times - Friday, May 5, 2006

BRUSSELS — The United States, in any military confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program, can expect even less support from its European allies than it received during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“Europeans have already gone as far as they can as a group in playing hardball with Iran and are on the brink of rethinking their position at this point in time. Any escalation is certainly not in the interest of Europeans; it plays into the hands of extremists on both sides,” said Antonio Missiroli, chief policy analyst at the Brussels-based European Policy Center.

He noted that European leaders and diplomats are expressing reservations about the tough line Britain and France have adopted on sanctions.

“Diplomacy has got a long way to run,” said Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform in London. “But a few years down the line, we may have a serious trans-Atlantic rift over Iran.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who discussed the Iran crisis with President Bush at the White House this week, is reported to be concerned that piling pressure on the hard-line regime in Tehran could shatter international unity on the issue.

A further sign of nervousness in European capitals is clear from the title of the next public debate at the Brussels office of the French Institute for International Relations: “Repetition of History? Is Europe still Venus and the United States still Mars? The Iran case.”

For the moment, both sides are stressing the need for a peaceful resolution to the standoff. Britain, France and the United States on Wednesday introduced a binding U.N. Security Council resolution that would require Iran to stop enriching uranium or face the threat of sanctions.

But veto-wielding Security Council members China and Russia are opposed to economic sanctions.

John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told a House committee Tuesday that if the Security Council rejected sanctions, the United States could seek to impose them with a group of like-minded countries.

Members of the Bush administration refuse to rule out the use of force against Iran if it fails to halt its nuclear program. “We have not taken the military option off the table, but that is not where we are at,” Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried told The Washington Times.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer attempted to calm fears about an attack on Iran. “We’re on the diplomatic track, and I don’t see any sense in starting to speculate on anything else,” he said.

European foreign policy specialists doubt the Iran issue will divide the 25-member European Union, as happened with Iraq.

“I don’t think Europe is likely to split on this,” Mr. Grant said. “Europeans would not agree to support military action. Not even the British would or could join a U.S. military action against Iran because of Iraq.”

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