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‘Pointless’ nuclear talks allowed Iran to keep on building

Iran Nuclear plantChristopher Booker’s notebook

Sunday Telegraph, Sunday 14 August – The failure of the EU’s attempts to persuade Iran not to manufacture nuclear weapons has been even more humiliating than is generally realised. The purpose of the two-year joint mission by British, French and German diplomats was to talk the Iranians into not producing enriched uranium. According to a Reuters report in the US Defense News, however, based on a government document smuggled out of Iran by the National Council for the Resistance of Iran, the mullahs have used that time to assemble thousands of the necessary centrifuges, which can conveniently be hidden across the country.

The report gleefully boasts of how those two years of pointless talks have bought time to enable Iran to move much further down the road to becoming a nuclear power, while sparing it the ordeal of UN sanctions or having to risk rather more hard-headed intervention by Washington.
In terms of the EU’s various attempts to intervene on the world stage as a superpower with its own foreign policy, the Iran humiliation recalls that of 1990, when a troika of foreign ministers from Italy, Holland and Luxembourg flew to Belgrade to support President Milosevic in his determination to prevent the break up of Yugoslavia. "The hour of Europe has dawned," declared Luxembourg’s Jacques Poos, just as the federation fell apart.

As for the Iranian debacle, Britain’s long-standing involvement in this latest bid to give the EU a "common foreign policy" has been one of the murkiest adventures our Foreign Office has ever put its hand to. It is now seven years since I first reported on the bizarre saga of how the Foreign Office sought to appease Teheran by closing down Iran Aid, a charity set up, with support from several distinguished British lawyers and academics, to give practical help to the families and dependants of dissidents who had been murdered or imprisoned by the regime.

The strategy chosen to achieve this was to call in the Charity Commission, which sent in an administrator from PricewaterhouseCooper to take over Iran Aid’s affairs. Despite spending two years combing through the charity’s files (in consultation with a former minister of the Teheran regime), and retaining well over £100,000 of the charity’s funds for his services, the administrator never found a scrap of that evidence to link Iran Aid with terrorist activities the Foreign Office was hoping for.

Naturally the FO publicly disclaimed any connection with this heavy-handed intervention by the Charity Commission. But as British ministers continued to visit Teheran, Iran’s government radio boasted of how it had brought pressure on the British Government to close down the charity, which was eventually able to re-establish itself under another name. The lesson the FO has never learned is that appeasing dictatorships rarely yields any dividends. But its part in assisting Iran to become a nuclear power may prove to be one of the EU’s greatest blunders to date.