- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

It’s becoming increasingly clear that when it comes to dealing with Iranian nuclear weapons programs, the election of Nicolas Sarkozy as president of France has given a tremendous boost to Western resolve. In stark contrast to his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, who said that an Iranian bomb would “not be very dangerous,” Mr. Sarkozy says this would be intolerable.

In a speech late last month, Mr. Sarkozy called for tough-minded diplomacy to stop Iran. “Iran with a nuclear weapon is not acceptable to me,” he said, underlining France’s “total determination” to support increased sanctions (while remaining open to talks if Tehran agrees to respect its obligations under U.N. resolutions). He added this powerful line: “This initiative is the only one that can allow us to escape an alternative that I can only call catastrophic: an Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran.”

On Sunday, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the following to Iran: “We have to prepare for the worst, and the worst, sir, is war.” In addition, French officials say they are warning businesses, including the oil company Total, not to make new energy agreements with Iran. Mr. Sarkozy’s approach to Iran and, in particular, his willingness to cooperate with Washington on sanctions, represents a dramatic departure from the practices of Mr. Chirac and Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, who never missed a chance to poke their finger in Washington’s eye.

With German Chancellor Angela Merkel, however, things are much more complicated. Clearly, her electoral victory over Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder two years ago was itself a huge step forward for U.S.-German relations. But her government’s policy toward Iran has been schizophrenic. In February 2006, Mrs. Merkel compared Iran’s nuclear policy to the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany and condemned Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statements denying the Holocaust. “Any president that questions Israel’s right to exist and questions the Holocaust cannot expect any tolerance from Germany,” she said.

But a conference titled “Iran — Business Opportunities for German Exporters” opened several days ago in Darmstadt, Germany. The conference is reportedly a joint initiative involving the Hessian state government and Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology. And, within the European Union, Germany has been attempting to block efforts by the United States and France to tighten sanctions on Iran, arguing that Tehran be given “a chance to recover the international community’s lost confidence.” For its part, the Iranian regime doesn’t seem very interested in winning the West’s “confidence”; instead, Tehran recently hinted that it might share nuclear technology with terrorist groups.

At present, Germany has become a leading obstacle to a more serious European approach to Iran. Mrs. Merkel would do better to learn from the approach taken by Mr. Sarkozy, which appears to be more grounded in reality.

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