Commentary Magazine


Will the EU Back Down on Iran?

For the past several months, it has been the European Union that has taken the lead on ratcheting up sanctions against Iran. While President Obama was still dithering about implementing measures that would effectively create an international embargo against Iranian oil, the EU laid out its plans to actually shut down Tehran’s one source of foreign capital. But lurking behind this admirable boldness has always been a troubling sense that underneath their tough talk was an ardent desire to engage the Iranians and make all the unpleasantness go away.

That concern must go back to the front burner today with the announcement that EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has accepted an offer to meet with the Iranians to discuss some new proposals Tehran is putting on the table. While the talks don’t obligate the EU to back down on its threats and can be construed in one way as proof that sanctions have gotten the attention of the Islamist regime, there is also the very real chance that once the negotiations begin the dynamic of diplomacy will predominate and allow Iran to play for more time as their nuclear program progresses.

It should be understood that the only reason why the Europeans have been so forward on the Iran issue is they are scared stiff an Israeli attempt to forestall the nuclear threat will play havoc with their economies. That isn’t to say that leaders such as French President Nicolas Sarkozy are not fully aware of Iran’s dangerous nuclear intentions or that they fail to understand that Tehran’s acquisition of such a weapon would not present a threat to European security. They understand this, yet absent pressure from Israel, it is doubtful the EU would have been as tough on Iran as it has been.

During the past several years, dating back to the Bush administration (which outsourced diplomacy on Iran to the French and the Germans), the Iranians have had only one objective in its nuclear talks with the West: using them as a way to distract the world from its ongoing progress towards a weapon. Though it can be argued that some good and no harm can come from just talking to the Iranians, there is no reason to believe they view negotiations as anything but an opportunity to detach the EU from the U.S. and Israel. The ayatollahs know the EU has every reason to accept an inadequate compromise on nuclear enrichment or some other measure as proof Iran has backed down and will allow this to serve as justification for standing down from their promise of what might prove to be a costly oil embargo.

Given President Obama’s own predilection for pointless talks with Iran as well as his own lack of enthusiasm for an oil embargo, Israel has good reason to fear that once talks with Iran get going they will have a life of their own. Though the Israelis have no way of preventing such talks, the EU must be reminded that should they fold on their heretofore tough stance on Iranian nukes, the Jewish state will not back down on its own resolution to prevent the Islamist regime from acquiring a genocidal capability. Moreover, if President Obama is as serious about stopping Iran as he wanted to appear to be while speaking at the AIPAC conference, he must speak out and remind both Iran and the EU that he, too, won’t stand for any compromise that leaves Tehran with a potential opportunity to create their own nuke.