Conciliation: A New, Clear Iran Policy?

By Wang, Tina | Harvard International Review, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Conciliation: A New, Clear Iran Policy?


Wang, Tina, Harvard International Review


Based on initial steps taken to address a possible Iranian attempt to acquire nuclear capability, the major European powers have an opportunity to show greater unity, without generating tensions with the United States, than they did on the issue of an Iraqi weapons program. The US-led military offensive in Iraq in 2003 created deep rifts among countries in Europe, polarizing Britain from France and Germany, as well as widening the US-European split. The case of Iran may be different. The Iranian reception of the measures taken by the United States and Europe thus far to preclude the possibility of a nuclear Iran suggest that the combination of a more conciliatory front from Britain, France, and Germany, and a more confrontational stance from the United States may be effective in preventing a nuclear Iran without provoking major diplomatic or armed conflict. Furthermore, the "European" approach to Iranian nuclear development may provide Europe with the opportunity to wield influence complementary to that of the more hard-lined US policy, without corroding trans-Atlantic relations.

The United States and European countries agree that a nuclear Iran, which would violate the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), would create more instability in a region that is already troubled. Also, Iran's long-range missiles will make much of the European continent vulnerable to a nuclear strike. However, the United States and the prominent trio of the European Union--Britain, France, and Germany--differ on the means to the end. The former seeks to confront Iran with military pressure and the threat of economic sanctions backed by the UN Security Council, while the latter seeks to secure Iran's cooperation in the inspection of its nuclear sites and suspension of its uranium enrichment program through an offer of economic assistance. Both have demonstrated respective "stick" and "carrot" approaches to Iran, which may work well to propel nuclear negotiations, however tense, forward without provoking confrontation.

After the case for war in Iraq instigated confrontation within the United Nations, European countries seem to have joined together in attempting to avoid a repeat of the Iraq showdown between European countries and the United States and Britain. When the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the nuclear watchdog arm of the United Nations, reported that Iran had been engaging in covert enrichment and reprocessing activities for 18 years, the Bush administration decided that negotiations were too conciliatory. As part of the administration's more hard-line policy, it declared Iran part of the "axis of evil." The United States pressured IAEA to declare Iran in "violation" of NPT and sought to bring the matter before the UN Security Council, which can authorize economic sanctions and military action. European countries acknowledged Iran's breaches of nuclear treaties but believed that Iran could be pressured to cooperate. They resisted US diplomatic pressure and sought to obtain Iran's compliance through economic incentives. In negotiations in Tehran in November 2003, three European foreign ministers, Jack Straw of Britain, Dominique de Villepin of France, and Joschka Fischer of Germany, said that if Iran's nuclear production is indeed intended for energy production, as the Iranian government claims, their governments would aid in the development of nuclear power for civilian use and strengthen economic ties with Iran. …

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