- The Washington Times - Friday, September 2, 2005

When the United States and the European Union agreed in March on a formula for handling Iran’s nuclear program, the parameters of the compromise between the Bush administration and the EU 3 governments of Britain, France and Germany were clear: Washington would support European diplomatic efforts to offer positive incentives to persuade Iran to end its nuclear-weapons programs. This would include “carrots” such as dropping U.S. opposition to Iran’s membership in the World Trade Organization and permitting Iran to obtain spare parts for civilian aircraft. In exchange, the Europeans would agree to support referring Iran to the U.N. Security Council for punishment if it refused to end its illicit nuclear-weapons program.

Despite its misgivings about rewarding Iranian misbehavior, Washington kept its end of the bargain, and, by doing so, it appears to have divided the Europeans, who six months ago seemed to be united around the absurd premise that the Bush administration and Tehran were more or less equally to blame for the impasse. In the past few weeks, however, as Iran brazenly restarted research at its Isfahan nuclear facility, significant intra-European differences have emerged — particularly between France and Germany.

On Monday, French President Jacques Chirac warned that Tehran faced censure by the Security Council if it did not reinstitute a freeze on its uranium conversion and enrichment activities under an agreement reached in November with the EU 3. In Berlin, on the other hand, it is a very different story. While Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer has been sharply critical of Iran’s nuclear-weapons quest, his boss, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, has been playing a malevolent role, focusing most of his criticism on Washington rather than Tehran.

After President Bush earlier this month said that Washington would not rule out using force as a last resort to stop Iran from becoming an atomic-weapons state, Mr. Schroeder criticized the president’s suggestion and demanded that military action be taken off the table as an option. For Mr. Schroeder, playing the anti-American card is nothing new. Three years ago, he successfully ran for re-election as chancellor by denouncing the idea of going to war in order to depose Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Of course, in the end it is entirely possible that these intra-European differences (particularly Mr. Chirac’s relatively strong comments on Iran) may prove to be relatively small matters of rhetoric, and that the Europeans remain wedded as ever to appeasement. Apparently, Tehran doesn’t think so. New Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has become increasingly strident in his attacks on the Europeans, denouncing their efforts to persuade Iran to bargain away its nuclear weapons as “cruel and unfair” and suggesting they have no legitimate role to play in negotiations over the issue. The mullahs may be in the process of creating a new set of enemies for themselves in Europe.

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