OpinionIran in the World PressAn EU voice of caution

An EU voice of caution


International Herald Tribune: During the run-up to the U.S.-led war against Iraq in early 2003, Javier Solana retreated from public view, more content to keep a very low profile out of character with his role as Europe’s top foreign policy chief than to engage in the bitter diplomatic exchanges over the pending war.
International Herald Tribune

By Judy Dempsey

A pessimistic Solana says Iraq ‘is not over’

BRUSSELS – During the run-up to the U.S.-led war against Iraq in early 2003, Javier Solana retreated from public view, more content to keep a very low profile out of character with his role as Europe’s top foreign policy chief than to engage in the bitter diplomatic exchanges over the pending war.

In the few somber interviews he gave at the time, Solana was deeply pessimistic about trans-Atlantic relations, acknowledging that the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States had fundamentally changed that relationship and believing that a war in Iraq had the potential to wreak havoc in the region.

Two years later, as the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization roll out red carpets for President George W. Bush on Tuesday in Brussels, both sides are making a big effort to put the disputes about Iraq behind them. With the first phase of elections over in Iraq, Bush will be asking NATO and the EU for more military and civilian help to rebuild the country.

Solana, however, remains pessimistic on Iraq’s future, dismissing any notion that the U.S. decision to invade has been vindicated.

In a wide-ranging interview in his office here, he also voiced doubts about the ability of the trans-Atlantic partnership to resolve the current nuclear standoff with Iran, and called for the creation of an early warning system to defuse trans-Atlantic tensions.

In the interview, he called for the creation of an early warning system to defuse trans-Atlantic tensions.

“We have to see how we can resolve problems before they reach the table,” said Solana, 62, although he did not say how such a system would work.

Appearing tired but still engaged, under pressure ahead of the Bush visit to set a foreign policy agenda acceptable to the 25 EU countries, Solana made clear that he remained deeply worried about Iraq.

“Iraq is not over,” he said. There was a long pause. Then, speaking with a hoarse voice, Solana leaned over.

“So you think you are vindicated because there were elections in a region that is very close to Iran and that the Iranians might try and influence Iraq,” he said. “It is not a vindication.

“Think about it. What kind of regime will emerge? It is too early to say. You don’t know what is going to happen in Iraq.”

His sober assessment, he said, was informed by his long talks with leaders in the region.

Yes, he noted, participation in the recent elections was high. But he added: “Is this a vindication when you count how many billions of dollars have been spent, how many people have been killed, how many soldiers have died? It is a little too early to say.”

He paused. “I can tell you, if you go to Jordan and talk to the king of Jordan, he is in panic.” Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, too, Solana said, “is in panic.”

Solana added: “They wonder what kind of Iraq will emerge. Will it be a government of theologians or engineers?”

During his visit to Europe, Bush is to have separate meetings with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of Germany, President Jacques Chirac of France and President Vladimir Putin of Russia, the leaders of the antiwar coalition. His aim, diplomats said, is to mend the fractured trans-Atlantic relationship.

Solana said this effort could benefit from lessons learned from Iraq. Among them, he said, the most important “is that things can’t be done unilaterally.”

“At the end of the day, of course,” he added, “you can do military operations. But the world is not run on military lines. It is done in a more sophisticated manner. You need the most important political allies with you. Therefore, you have to talk to your allies.”

So far in Bush’s second term, Solana said, there have been “two good sentences” from the president and his new secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice: “One. Four years of war, let’s have four years of diplomacy. Good Line. Second. Four years of monologue to be followed by four years of dialogue. Good line. Let’s see if that’s true.”

A test case could be Iran. For a year and a half, Britain, France and Germany have been negotiating with Iran to suspend all its activities related to enriching uranium, a process required to produce a nuclear weapon. Much is at stake for the European effort. The negotiations with Iran, in which Tehran is being offered trade and other incentives in return for limiting its nuclear program, will test the EU’s “soft diplomacy.”

“We are trying to do the utmost to make it work,” said Solana, adding that if it did not work, the problem would “move from one capital to another” – to the United Nations Security Council in New York, where Iran could face sanctions for not complying with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

“We know that Iran has, according to the treaty, the right to have civil nuclear power for electricity,” Solana added. “But we don’t want them to have the capability to go nuclear. We don’t think the Middle East needs more nuclear weapons in a region that is already so unstable.”

The Europeans would like the United States to join these negotiations so as to apply maximum pressure on Iran. But Solana stressed that they could not push Washington “into a difficult situation.”

“The Americans have not had relations with Iran for over 20 years,” he said. “And President Bush has said very clearly they don’t want to legitimate the regime. They cannot get engaged because it means legitimating them.”

He added: “We are not asking the Americans to do the impossible. We want to ask them for whatever they can deliver.”

Senior diplomats in Brussels and in other European capitals are far from optimistic they will succeed with Iran. “I give it a 20 percent chance of success,” said one.

Solana said more time was needed for negotiations with Tehran. “If the time is used properly,” he said, “and if we get an agreement, all the better. If not” it will be more difficult for the Iranians “to get out of the hole.”

Solana made a plea for the United States to engage on a multilateral level.

“Look, I want to be pragmatic,” he said.

“It is not talking about whether God exists or not,” he said, alluding to the influence of religion on American politics. “I am looking at how to deal with the administration in a constructive and multilateral framework.”

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