Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Ahmadinejad's Appetite for Self-Destruction

Daryl Lindsey, Spiegel Online:
Iran has broken the seals at nuclear facilities signaling its intention to start production of enriched uranium anew. This is seen as a major provocation in Europe and many newspapers in Germany warn that it's time to drop the carrots and starting wielding the sticks.

Iran has called the Holocaust fiction, it's called for the destruction of Israel and, on Monday, it removed the seals from nuclear fuel research facilities so it could resume uranium-enrichment work. It's been an escalation in antics from the mullah-led country that has caused many in Europe to throw up their hands in dispair after months of exhaustive diplomatic work and painstaking negotations.

Officials in Europe and the United States fear the enriched uranium will be used by Tehran for a suspected clandestine project to produce the mullah regime's first nuclear warhead. Monday's move drew sharp criticism in both Europe and the United States. In Germany, Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the move "cannot be left without consequences," adding he would discuss the issue with France and Britain later this week. In Germany, most newspaper editorialists say there's been enough talk -- now it's time for stronger measures.

In an editorial running under the headline "Appetite for Self-Destruction," the leftist Berliner Zeitung asks what is driving Tehran? The paper notes a new dimension -- following Russia's game of natural gas roulette with the Ukraine, when Tehran now says it doesn't want to have to rely on other countries for it's energy, it has some credibility for those claims because, in fact, "Russia is not a reliable partner." Still, the paper is critical of Iran's uranium enrichment program and writes that it's hardly surprising the German foreign minister is speaking of "disastrous signals." It's now becoming apparent that there won't be any further talks between the European Union, which has been seeking to negotiate an agreement with Iran. But what is making Iran steer this self-destructive course? "Either they believe they have nothing to gain, no matter what concessions they make to the EU, or they feel so strong that they do not fear a UN debate and sanctions," it writes before concluding that it's probably a sense of both.

The Financial Times Deutschland calls the efforts of the so-called EU troika -- Germany, Britain and France -- to try to keep Iran from producing weapons-grade uranium have completely failed. Up till now, the Europeans have tried to lure the Iranians with economic carrots while threatening them with American sticks. But so far, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been unimpressed. Now, the paper says, "The credibility of the international community is at stake." It asks how serious the EU really is about its "declared goal of stopping Iran from building the atom bomb and how far they are prepared to go to achieve that goal?" Burned by the experience over the Iraq war, the Europeans aren't keen to take this to the United Nations Security Council, but the FTD argues that it should be the next stop. "Initially, this would be a symbolic step, but it is one that would show that Europe is prepared to be tough."

The conservative Die Welt is equally pessmistic. "You don't have to be a prophet to see that Tehran is going to be the foreign policy crisis of the year," the paper's editorialist writes. "Iran doesn't just want to have access to nuclear energy, it also wants a bomb." The paper notes ominously that the mullah regime already possesses midrange missiles -- which enable it to threaten the entire Middle East and to assert political pressure on Europe. "President Ahmadinejad never tires of emphasizing that Israel will be the first target," it continues, "and he rambles on about his fantasies of destruction almost every day." Neither London, Paris, Berlin nor Washington know how to deal with the threat the country poses, it exclaims. The paper calls for both political and economic sanctions -- including banning the soccer-obsessed Persians from the World Cup and the freezing of Iranian bank accounts around the world. If that doesn't work, the paper argues, there's always an oil embargo and sea blockades. "In the end, perhaps only military action will be effective," it concludes. "If that were to come about, Tehran would mostly have itself to blame."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung draws attention to an uncomfortable fact the other papers gloss over: there's no law or treaty banning peaceful nuclear research. What Tehran is claiming to do -- uranium enrichment -- is perfectly legal -- it simply violates the good will of Germany, France and Britain, with which Iran negotiated a voluntary deal two years ago to abandon its uranium enrichment program. But the paper describes the development as highly politically damaging. "The question is what, if anything, the Europeans and the Iranians still have to talk about?" If talks do resume, the paper argues that any pledges from the EU to deliver modern nuclear technologies or fuels to Tehran if it abandons the enrichment of weapons-grade uranium must be taken off the table. With oil prices at more than $60 per barrel, Russian roulette at the gas tap, general energy shortfalls and Asia wooing Tehran for its energy reserves, Iran is in a strong position right now. But this won't last and if Tehran wants to unleash the country's economic potential, Europe's good will is indispensible. "Losing touch with reality," the paper warns, "won't solve any of their problems." READ MORE

Meanwhile German commentators criticise Turkey's handling of the bird flu outbreak there and say the rural population seems woefully unaware of the risks involved in handling birds. Three children have already died in the outbreak -- the first reported deaths from the bird virus flu outside China and Southeast Asia. Turkey has now confirmed 15 people with bird flu infections since last week, and more than 70 people suspected of having the virus are undergoing tests. In Germany, authorities have introduced more rigorous checks of travellers from Turkey and a number of other countries and have confiscated large quantities of poultry meat, birds' feathers and eggs, all of which can transport bird flu.

Business daily Handelsblatt says Turkey's handling puts a question mark on its bid to join the European Union. "The EU Commission wants to counter the danger by extending its import ban on poultry and live birds from Turkey and six other neighboring countries. But that won't correct Turkey's evident mistakes and failures. Ankara has lost a lot of trust in recent days with the way it has handled the virus.

"Even three days after the diagnosis had been established, the health minister was still denying that the illnesses were bird flu. The ignorance among large parts of the rural population of eastern Anatolia is frightening. Poultry was still being eaten there even when it was displaying clear signs of illness. The Turkish authorities have failed to set up effective precautionary measures and disease control. Brussels will pay close attention to how Ankara handles this crisis. It shows how far the country which is pushing so forcefully for EU membership remains removed from Europe in reality."

Center-left Berliner Zeitung says Germany and other European countries were better prepared for bird flu than Turkey. "Since yesterday even Turkish officials have been admitting that the animal disease has been quietly spreading for months without anyone taking appropriate action. In Asia more than 150 million birds were killed as a precaution, in Turkey authorities remained reticent, partly because in the poor regions of the country, animals are a highly important food reserve in winter."
The European press is finally waking up on Iran.