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Friday, August 31, 2007

International Herald Tribune Editorial - No time for threats

International Herald Tribune Editorial - No time for threats
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: August 30, 2007

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France made the wrong gesture at the wrong time by brandishing the possible use of force against Iran's nuclear weapons program in his first major foreign policy address. The United States and its allies need to be stepping up their efforts to resolve the serious dangers posed by Iran through comprehensive negotiations and increased international economic pressure, not by talking about military action.

Sarkozy, who has previously said that France would not join Washington in military action against Iran, did not exactly endorse an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities in Monday's speech. He asserted that a nuclear-armed Iran would be "unacceptable" and reaffirmed support for the diplomatic initiative by the United States, France and other world powers. That initiative involves the imposition of UN-mandated sanctions against Iran while offering significant political and economic benefits if Iran stops enriching uranium. It is a deal Tehran so far has refused.

What's scary is that his comments may reflect his understanding of where U.S. policy is headed. Far closer to Washington than his predecessor, Sarkozy just spent time with President George W. Bush on vacation in Maine. His remarks, reflecting his blunt, no-nuance style, will be read as a warning to Tehran and to countries reluctant to increase the penalties for Iran's nuclear ambitions. The message: If the diplomatic initiative fails, Iran will have nuclear weapons or there will be military action to prevent it. Bush added to the bullying Wednesday by suggesting the nuclear threat from Iran was a justification for keeping American troops in Iraq.

Unvarnished comments like Sarkozy's are likely to backfire in Iran, stoking nationalist sentiment to the advantage of hard-line leaders, like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who stand up to the West and resist compromise. They may also be read by Bush administration hawks as a sign of growing European acceptance of the military option.

France has shown impressive diplomatic resolve and should be cashing that in for further diplomatic pressure on Iran. Sarkozy should not give Bush any excuse to lessen the diplomatic push.

The chance of persuading Tehran to forsake nuclear weapons at this point may be slim. But the international community has at least one more opportunity to intensify sanctions. Over the past few years, the United States, Britain, France and Germany have made remarkable strides in forging an international consensus opposed to Iran's nuclear weapons program. But for that to translate into effective sanctions, the UN Security Council must remain united.

Tehran made a deal this month with UN inspectors to resolve questions over its nuclear program that is just another pretense of addressing international concerns. China and Russia, the main obstructionists on the Security Council, will try to use that deal as another excuse to resist tougher sanctions. The United States and its allies must creatively push for the maximum sanctions possible. This is the time for robust diplomacy, not threats.


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