Euros offer weak support to isolation of Iran

NY Times:

European governments are resisting Bush administration demands that they curtail support for exports to Iran and that they block transactions and freeze assets of some Iranian companies, officials on both sides say. The resistance threatens to open a new rift between Europe and the United States over Iran.

Administration officials say a new American drive to reduce exports to Iran and cut off its financial transactions is intended to further isolate Iran commercially amid the first signs that global pressure has hurt Iran’s oil production and its economy. There are also reports of rising political dissent in Iran.

In December, Iran’s refusal to give up its nuclear program led the United Nations Security Council to impose economic sanctions. Iran’s rebuff is based on its contention that its nuclear program is civilian in nature, while the United States and other countries believe Iran plans to make weapons.

At issue now is how the resolution is to be carried out, with Europeans resisting American appeals for quick action, citing technical and political problems related to the heavy European economic ties to Iran and its oil industry.

“We are telling the Europeans that they need to go way beyond what they’ve done to maximize pressure on Iran,” said a senior administration official. “The European response on the economic side has been pretty weak.” The American demands and European responses were provided by 10 different officials, including both supporters and critics of the American approach.

One irony of the latest pressure, European and American officials say, is that on their own, many European banks have begun to cut back their transactions with Iran, partly because of a Treasury Department ban on using dollars in deals involving two leading Iranian banks.

American pressure on European governments, as opposed to banks, has been less successful, administration and European officials say.

The main targets are Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden and Britain, all with extensive business dealings with Iran, particularly in energy. Administration officials say, however, that Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, the current head of the European Union, has been responsive.

Europe has more commercial and economic ties with Iran than does the United States, which severed relations with Iran after the revolution and seizure of hostages in 1979.

...

“They’ve told us they don’t have the tools,” said a senior American official. “Our answer is: get them.”

“We want to squeeze the Iranians,” said a European official. “But there are varying degrees of political will in Europe about turning the thumbscrews. It’s not straightforward for the European Union to do what the United States wants.”

Another European official said: “We are going to be very cautious about what the Treasury Department wants us to do. We can see that banks are slowing their business with Iran. But because there are huge European business interests involved, we have to be very careful.”

...
I guess the Euros don't want to let anything like a nuclear threat interfere with business. They remind me of the time when I was in Marine Corps OCS doing a night compass march. We were divided into two man teams and given coordinates and distances so one man worked the compass while the other paced the distance. I heard another team where the guy doing the pacing had fallen into a hole and was asking his teammate for help getting out. His teammate's response was that he did not want to lose his azimuth on his compass. Hyper focus on one objective can cause people to lose the plot which includes everyone arriving safely at the end. Some Euros appear to be willing to supply the rope with which they are to be hung.

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