Wednesday, January 25, 2006

In the past several years, we have often seen bizarre positions emanating from Paris on matters of foreign policy. Even with all of that, it was surprising to hear French President Jacques Chirac’s statement last week that France was prepared to launch a nuclear strike against any country that sponsors a terrorist attack against French interests.

This wasn’t a casual offhand comment by Mr. Chirac. Rather, it was made during a visit to a nuclear submarine base in Brittany. The text of his speech was posted on the presidential Web site. In it he stated, “All of our nuclear forces have been configured in this spirit.” Although Mr. Chirac did not name any specific countries, which might be targets of a French nuclear attack, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the likely targets. These include Iran, as well as Arab countries in the Middle East.

What is so surprising is that Mr. Chirac’s government has in the past favored an approach of conciliation or even appeasement toward Iran and the Arab nations. He was, after all, the vociferous foe of the U.S.-led war in Iraq and a hard line against Iran. That approach benefited French companies that were able to obtain lucrative contracts in competition with corporations based in the land of the great Satan. So, what happened? There are two contributing factors. The first is the civil unrest in France several months ago, which involved nightly riots and a myriad of car burnings in many areas of the country. This violence had the same kind of impact upon Mr. Chirac and the French government that September 11 had upon the United States.

In his speech, Mr. Chirac bluntly declared, “In numerous countries, radical ideas are spreading, advocating a confrontation of civilizations.” Mr. Chirac now understands the problem. The jihadists are attempting to capture town by town, areas within Western Europe. As one French government official put it, “This is more than a clash of civilizations. It is a cancer within our country that if unchecked will destroy all of France.”

With his statements, Mr. Chirac is warning Iran and the Arab countries to desist in supporting and encouraging residents of France who launched last year’s attacks and are undoubtedly planning to do far worse. His approach is to cut off terror at the source. This resembles the policy being pursued by the U.S. government, although it is hard to imagine how great the public outcry would be if President Bush threatened to use nuclear weapons.

The second contributing factor is the failure of the Europeans — namely France, Germany and England — to reach an agreement with Tehran controlling the development of Iranian nuclear weapons. About a year ago, the Bush administration, having been subjected to constant criticism about the destruction of Saddam Hussein’s despotic and menacing Iraqi regime, wisely said to the Europeans, “You go deal with Iran.” It meant making the Europeans part of the process.

After a year, the results are clear. Tehran did nothing but mislead and stonewall the Europeans who now have nothing except a record of deceit to show for several months of negotiations which were in good faith from their side. Moreover, the official Iranian government statements emerging from the fanatical elected president demonstrate that if anything Tehran’s position is hardening on the development of nuclear weapons.

There is no point gloating over the Europeans’ failure to deal with Tehran. The new radicalism of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has now emerged front and center as one of the toughest foreign policy issues for the Bush administration. At this point, we don’t have a policy for dealing with Tehran and we haven’t had one for several years.

In Washington, the time has come to act. We can forget about the United Nations. Russia and China will veto any U.N. resolution calling for action. We have to sit down with our European allies. Mr. Chirac may suddenly be more agreeable to a hardline approach. Newly elected Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany seems more sympathetic to the U.S. position, and Prime Minster Tony Blair should be amenable.

We should develop a consensus for an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities even if it means a reduction in Iranian oil with a significant impact on Western economies. We have to act before the lunatics in Tehran have nuclear weapons.

Allan Topol is an international lawyer and the author of several novels, including the bestseller “Enemy of My Enemy.”

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