- The Washington Times - Friday, July 3, 2009

LONDON | Before Iran’s recent election and subsequent crackdown on protesters, European leaders often displayed a kind, gentle attitude toward the country - especially when compared to the more bellicose United States.

But after suspicions of electoral fraud, repression of postelection protests and accusations thrown at the British Embassy, it’s Europe that’s spitting out the toughest talk.

Now many are wondering whether the Europeans will follow their words with concrete actions to distance themselves from Iran.

“All the major European powers have taken a much firmer stand than the United States,” said Patrick Keller, coordinator of foreign and security policy at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Berlin.

The European Union’s foreign-policy directors planned to discuss the removal of the bloc’s 27 ambassadors from Iran at a two-day meeting that started Thursday in Stockholm, a significant step that’s part of a mounting diplomatic squabble.

At the same time, the Obama administration has been expressing hopes for a new dialogue with Iran and even after the disputed election remains open to the idea of talking with Iran about its nuclear ambitions.

“It does sometimes seem as if a role reversal has taken place between the Europeans and the U.S., with the Europeans preaching Wilsonian principles and the U.S. stressing diplomacy and piecemeal reform in relations with undemocratic states,” said Jytte Klausen, professor of politics at Brandeis University in Boston.

“There has been a gradual shift in Europe toward a new consensus involving both the left and the right in Europe that moral issues - free elections and civil liberty - should in some measure inform the conduct of relations with countries known to violate basic standards in those regards,” she said.

Mr. Keller said it’s more obvious now than ever before that Iran is not a democracy or even a theocracy, but a common dictatorship.

“With regard to the nuclear program, this [realization] should help to unify the West and intensify appropriate measures to pressure the regime,” he said.

Earlier this week, Iran accused the European Union of “interference” in the street protests after the disputed June 12 presidential elections.

Iran boosted tensions even more by charging that the European Union’s actions make it no longer qualified to take part in talks on Iran’s nuclear program.

Britain put forth a request that the European Union withdraw its ambassadors after Iran detained nine of its embassy staff last week on charges of fanning unrest, eight of whom have since been released.

“The Iranians could even force [the embassy] to close, if they are trying to ratchet up the pressure on Britain, or to convince their own people that the British were guilty of fomenting unrest and general interference,” said Kathleen Burk, a specialist on foreign affairs at University College London.

The European Union’s toughening stance has been met with outrage in Iran.

Charles Kupchan, an international relations specialist at Georgetown University in Washington, agrees that recent developments in Iran have hardened European attitudes toward Tehran’s theocratic regime.

“But although developments in Iran have to some extent led to greater uniformity in European views of the country’s government, as the dust settles in Tehran it is likely that divisions will remain within Europe about the appropriate balance between engagement and containment of Iran,” he said. “Certainly, the Iranians seem to have singled out the British due to their colonial history in the region and the broad reach of BBC broadcasts into Iran today.”

The British Broadcasting Corp.’s launch six months ago of a Persian TV service, which initially irritated the Iranian government, now seems to make it incandescent with rage.

Ali Ansari, a professor of Iranian studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland whose father was a diplomat under the shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, said he’s not sure Europe will withdraw its ambassadors.

“I believe the Ahmadinejad government will ratchet up the tension simply because a foreign problem diverts attention from domestic issues and offers the possibility of promoting national unity, though I am not convinced Iranians will respond,” Mr. Ansari said.

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