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Europe talks, acts tough on Iran

Manouchehr Mottaki By Gareth Harding

The United Press International, BRUSSELS — Europeans are supposed to prefer soft to hard power, jaw-jaw to war-war and appeasement to confrontation. In short, in the words of neo-conservative scholar Robert Kagan: \’Americans are from Mars; Europeans are from Venus.\’

Anyone still believing in this comic-book theory of international relations should have witnessed the reception Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki received in Brussels Monday.

Even before his plane landed on Belgian soil, Scottish European Union lawmaker Struan Stevenson said Mottaki`s invitation to the European Parliament was \’an insult to the 120,000 political opponents of the mullahs` regime who have been executed since the overthrow of the Shah 27 years ago.\’

Accusing Mottaki of alleged involvement in terror attacks and assassinations while Ambassador to Turkey in the 1980s, Stevenson said: \’Inviting Mottaki to Brussels to assure us that Iran is not trying to develop a nuclear weapons system is like inviting von Ribbentrop to tell us of his love for Poland in 1939.\’

The top Iranian diplomat`s first meeting was with Karel de Gucht, the foreign minister of Belgium — one of the countries included in the neo-cons `axis of weasel` hit-list in the run up to the Iraq war. De Gucht, who is currently president in office of the Organization for Cooperation in Europe, wasted no time in rapping Mottaki over the knuckles.

He described Mahmoud Ahmadinejad`s claim that the Holocaust was a myth as \’disgusting\’ and said recent comments by the Iranian president casting doubt on Israel`s right of existence were unacceptable.

\’Israel not only has the right to exist, it also has the right to live in peace and safety.\’ De Gucht finished off by stating that Iran`s referral to the United Nations Security Council over its nuclear activities was entirely its own doing.

Hardly weasel words.

Mottaki`s next stop was EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, not usually a man prone to hyperbole. But after 90 minutes, even the former NATO head was exasperated at Iran`s stance, telling reporters: \’They have to be more constructive.\’
Mottaki`s response was to blame Brussels for failing to come up with any new way out of the impasse and harangue the European Union for \’supporting some kind of nuclear apartheid which is not acceptable to us.\’

The foreign minister`s final rendezvous of the day was with the European foreign affairs committee, an intimidating place even for representatives of non-pariah states. Mottaki did little to endear himself to EU legislators by comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa, warning of a \’clash of civilizations\’ if Western governments continued to provoke Muslims with insulting cartoons, questioning whether the Holocaust took place and asking \’why Muslims should pay the price in order to set right such a horrific event.\’

Members of the EU assembly reacted with predictable outrage. Rejecting Mottaki`s comparison between Israel and South Africa, committee chairman Elmar Brok said that Nelson Mandela had become an example because of his peaceful methods, not by calling for the annihilation of a state.

Belgian Socialist member Veronique de Keyser said she hoped the next time Mottaki visited parliament he would not cast doubt on the Holocaust. \’The death of millions of Jews, homosexuals, Roma, is in no way comparable to cartoons or the burning of flags. We cannot talk to you if you deal with this in this manner.\’

Other deputies criticized Iran`s appalling human rights record and its sponsorship of terrorist groups in neighboring states.

At the end of the meeting, in which Mottaki called for Muslims to show restraint in their protests against the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, Brok concluded: \’I have not seen any opening for negotiations … We have a long way to go before we will understand each other.\’

Mottaki`s rude reception in Brussels reflects Europe`s hardening attitude towards the Islamist regime in Tehran. French President Jacques Chirac has hinted that Paris would be prepared to use its nuclear weapons against state sponsors of terrorism and last week Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy lashed out at Iran for secretly making nuclear weapons. Remember, these are the people dubbed \’cheese-eating surrender monkeys\’ for their opposition to the Iraq war.

Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a debutante on the international scene, is rapidly running out of patience. In a keynote speech to a global security conference in Munich earlier this month, the center-right premier compared the new hard-line regime in Tehran to the rise of the Nazi party and said Germany would not accept a nuclear Iran.

In his latest book, \’Not Quite the Diplomat,\’ former European Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Chris Patten refers to the contrast between the \’strong adjectives and nouns, and the weak verbs,\’ in pre-1990s EU foreign policy. \’Europe talked a passable game, but no one got their shorts muddy. We did not do too much harm (except in the Balkans,) and we did not do too much good.\’

In response to Iran`s nuclear provocations, Europe has been strong on both adjectives and verbs. It tried to coax Tehran into the international mainstream by offering it an extensive trade and aid deal in return for human rights improvements. When talks broke down after it became clear Iran was lying to Western governments about its nuclear program, Brussels hardened its stance, threatening to report it to the United Nations. When Iran resumed nuclear processing in August, the Union was left with only one logical option: to refer it to the Security Council.

The United States has supported the EU stance but played only a bit-part role in the ongoing drama because it lacks any meaningful tools to influence the debate. It has no diplomatic ties with Tehran, so cannot engage in dialogue with the mullahs. It has imposed a trade embargo on Iran since the Islamists took power, so talk of economic sanctions is cheap. And its ability to strike the Muslim country has been severely weakened by the fact that its troops are bogged down in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans.

In the run-up to the second Gulf conflict, Washington neo-cons produced bumper stickers out of a quote from a British official: \’Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.\’ Today, the \’real men\’ are stuck in the bunkers of conservative think-tanks while the real work at trying to defuse the stand-off with Tehran is being done in those three \’axis of weasel\’ capitals Berlin, Paris and Moscow.