Thursday, March 09, 2006

The World From Berlin: Irate Over Iran

Damien McGuinness, Deutsche Welle:
The issue of Iran's nuclear activities has now been passed on to the United Nations Security Council. But will that ease or exacerbate the crisis? German commentators are divided. READ MORE

If there is one thing that all nations are agreed on -- when it comes to Iran -- it is that "everybody wants to avoid another Iraq," as the incoming UN deputy secretary general, Mark Malloch Brown put it. But it is much more difficult to reach a consensus on how to avoid that. Measures, action, consequences -- when it comes to possible strategies, there is a lot of vagueness flying round. Most of these terms are simply synonyms for sanctions, rather than military action. But do even economic or political sanctions look like a realistic solution?

Russia and China, are currently likely to veto any Security Council decision to impose sanctions due to their energy interests with Iran. Russia is building a nuclear power reactor for Iran, while China has agreements to buy oil from Iran, and intends to develop one of its oil fields. The United States, on the other hand, already bans pretty much all trade with Iran, making any official American sanctions effectively toothless anyway. After International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei slammed Iran in a report that cited the country's lack of cooperation, he also made a point of saying the matter should not be allowed to escalate out of control: "I think we need people to lower the rhetoric ... everybody will benefit from a political settlement of the Iranian issue and it would be a positive implication on an already volatile area." Is this likely? Today's papers in Germany are not so sure.

The Berlin-based daily Der Tagesspiegel sees in the current Iran crisis unfortunate similarities with the run-up to the Iraq war. "US Vice President Dick Cheney is once again threatening 'serious consequences.' More drastic still are the words of the American UN ambassador John Bolton, who said that the US would use every means possible to prevent an Iranian atomic program." The only thing missing, the paper ironically adds, is a dramatic performance by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the UN Security Council, in which satellite pictures prove that the Mullahs are on the verge of building the bomb. "The bellicose rhetoric sounds all too familiar to be believed," writes the commentator bitterly. "We are now suffering the consequences for how, before the Iraq war, the truth was shamelessly manipulated." The paper believes that the as a result of this "illegal war," developments in Iran and Iraq have become more closely linked than ever. The commentator also believes, perhaps somewhat overdramatically, that a civil war in Iraq depends entirely on a click of the fingers from Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Because the US and Britain have lost credibility in Iraq, the solution, according to the paper, is for Berlin and Paris to play a more important role in talks with Iran. "Washington would do well to stay in the background."

But for the conservative Die Welt, this lack of unity against Iran is exactly the problem. "So far the Iranians have failed to outmaneuver the UN Security Council or separate the Europeans from the Americans," writes the commentator. "The world's powers are united in their wish to prevent Iran from getting the bomb, however, not in how they view US domination of the Gulf." The paper also believes that the Iranian crisis is a result of the war in Iraq, and is adamant that achieving stability in this region is the biggest challenge the world faces. "The idea that Iran's nuclear capacity could really be neutral is nothing more than self-delusion and appeasement." The paper concludes by saying that "the only thing that stands between the Europeans and nuclear blackmail is the United States."

Not afraid to bring a bit of emotion into the debate, the populist tabloid Bild rather predictably ups the fear stakes, by featuring a picture of a manic Ahmadinejad looking decidedly unhinged, like some sort of comedy dictator, under the headline "Iran threatens the US with terror." Just in case the picture and headline weren't enough the paper dubs Iran's president "The madman from Teheran."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung rather more soberly writes that it would be a good thing for the UN Security Council to step in, saying it is high time. The paper concedes there are risks involved if the Council get involved, mainly that the Europeans and Americans, who favor a harder line, will probably clash with the more reticent Russians and Chinese over sanctions. "In the last few days Russia has come up with new suggestions for compromise which the West views as out of the question." The paper believes that the Security Council finds itself faced with two tasks. "Tehran must be carefully, but decisively, brought to its senses," concludes the commentator. "At the same time the Council must ensure that it avoids becoming as divided as it did over Iraq. No wonder some diplomats are already feeling queasy."