Diplomacy: EU raises stakes with Iran
24 January 2012
Le Figaro, Süddeutsche Zeitung, The Daily Telegraph, La Vanguardia
With their decision to impose an embargo on Iranian oil and to freeze Iranian bank assets in Europe, EU member states are hoping to force Teheran to halt its nuclear program — an initiative which the European press believes is a risky bet.
Pointing out that the ban on Iranian oil is a direct threat to the government of the Islamic Republic – which derives 50% of its budget from oil sales – Le Figaro writes that the European embargo is "a gamble":
It is by no means certain that Iran will not be able to make up for the loss of the European market elsewhere. That said the risk of further increases in oil prices is limited: the resumption of hydrocarbon production in Iraq and Libya should absorb most of the upward pressure at a time when the world economy is slowing down. However, doubts remain about the initiative’s potential to force Teheran to engage in meaningful talks about its nuclear ambitions. The mullahs’ regime has yet to reach a point where it has to choose between its survival and its military programme. But there is an urgent need for action. How else will it be possible to prevent the Israelis, who are convinced of the imminence of Iran’s nuclear capability, from launching military strikes? No doubt the oil embargo will be less effective than the secret war of assassinations and computer viruses. But it does have the merit of publicly demonstrating Europe’s determination to maintain pressure on Iran.
In terms of sanctions against Iran, the EU has played its final card, warns Süddeutsche Zeitung in Munich:
It marks the final escalation in the effort which has been ongoing for close to ten years to resolve the conflict by peaceful means. If Iran remains unmoved, the only remaining means will be military ones. The EU and the United States, which has been backing severe sanctions for some time, run the risk that their efforts may come to nothing. But countries that want to prevent Iran from progressing towards nuclear capability have no alternative.
However, this view is contested by Britain’s former permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Peter Jenkins argues that Teheran should be allowed to enrich uranium – but with the toughest safeguards:
Now, the West is all but isolated in insisting that Iran must not enrich. Most non-Westerners would prefer to see Iran treated like other NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty] parties: allowed to enrich uranium in return for intrusive monitoring by IAEA inspectors. My sympathies lie with the non-Westerners. My hunch is that this gathering crisis could be avoided by a deal along the following lines: Iran would accept top-notch IAEA safeguards in return for being allowed to continue enriching uranium. In addition, Iran would volunteer some confidence-building measures to show that it has no intention of making nuclear weapons. This, essentially, is the deal that Iran offered the UK, France and Germany in 2005. With hindsight, that offer should have been snapped up. It wasn’t, because our objective was to put a stop to all enrichment in Iran. That has remained the West’s aim ever since, despite countless Iranian reminders that they are unwilling to be treated as a second-class party to the NPT – with fewer rights than other signatories – and despite all the evidence that the Iranian character is more inclined to defiance than buckling under pressure.
But it is probably too late, argues Barcelona daily La Vanguardia: "Neither Brussels nor Washington have any confidence in Teheran’s insistence that its nuclear activities are solely for peaceful civil purposes." That said:
… the economic impact of the measure is uncertain: it will largely depend on support from other countries, like China, Japan and India, which could all too easily absorb the production destined for the EU [20% of Iranian oil exports]. At the same time, the sanctions could have a boomerang effect that would damage the European economy. Experts expect an increase in the price of oil […], and it is the countries which have been worst affected by the economic crisis that depend the most on Iran; Spain is, after Greece, the country that will be hardest hit by the boycott.