The European Union has proved itself a most unsuitable mediator in the nuclear stand-off between Iran and the US. While it has managed to win extensive concessions from the Iranian side, it has failed to compel Washington to provide adequate incentives for Iran to agree to disregard its rights under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

The Europeans doomed themselves to failure when they rejected Iran’s right to enrich uranium in return for limited American support for the EU’s diplomatic efforts. But Iran’s right to enrich uranium is guaranteed by the NPT, a fact which was even reflected by the recent International Atomic Energy Agency resolution urging Iran to “re-establish full suspension of all enrichment related activities”. This step was deemed a “voluntary, non-legally binding confidence-building measure”.

Earlier in April, the EU rejected an Iranian proposal to dismantle its industrial scale enrichment programme while only keeping a limited number of centrifuges under strict IAEA inspections. The EU’s decision was not rooted in a disbelief in the feasibility of the Iranian proposal or the ability of the UN inspectors to ensure that Iran could not violate its commitment, but rather in its fear of facing yet another confrontation with Washington since the Bush administration had made it clear that it would not accept any deal permitting Iran to master the fuel cycle. The White House’s position was spelled out at a press conference on April 28 2005. America recognises that “we can’t trust the Iranians when it comes to enriching uranium …that they should not be allowed to enrich uranium,” President Bush said.

Clearly incapable of compelling the US to budge, the European strategy has ever since been to procrastinate on the talks in the hope that Iran would fail to call the EU’s bluff, while searching for an exit strategy that would enable the EU to pass the blame on to Iran. The EU found its perfect scapegoat in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s new conservative president, whose reputation was damaged shattered prior to taking office by accusations of involvement in the 1979 hostage crisis. In early August, the EU proposed to Iran what an Asian diplomat referred to as an “empty offer”, knowing very well that it would cause a crisis during Mr Ahmadinejad’s first week in office. The European proposal did not recognise Iran’s right to enrichment and offered only European – not American – security guarantees in return for Iranian compromises.

But as the EU ducks its international responsibilities, the Iranian impasse becomes bigger than just nuclear proliferation. What is at stake now is the EU’s credibility as a force to be reckoned with in international politics.of the 21st century.

SurelyIt is true that the international community does not have many reasons to trust the Iranian regime. At a minimum, its human rights violations and its lack of democracy hinders the development of trust. Yet, the issue at hand is not whether the international community can trust Iran, but whether it can trust the IAEA and the UN inspectors.

In the case of Iraq, trust was put in intelligence reports from Iraqi dissidents with criminal pasts rather than in the testimonies of the UN inspection team. With more than 25,000 Iraqi civilians and 1,800 American soldiers killed, and daily suicide bombs in Iraq, We now know all too well that there were no weapons of mass destruction WMDs in Iraq. The IAEA and the UN inspectors were right and the intelligence reports were wrong. This time around, the IAEA even assembled a team of American and international scientists to verify its conclusions, in order to avoid having its work dismissed by untrusting western governments.

By rejecting the Iranian compromise proposal in order to avoid a clash with Washington, the EU chose to second-guess the IAEA and not heed the lesson of Iraq. NeverthelessThe EU’s exit strategy failed and the Europeans must now together produce a verifiable solution with Washington that does not negate rights guaranteed by the non-proliferation treaty.

Symmetry needs to be created in the negotiations by recognising that Iran’s steps and the west’s incentives only can only be deemed enduring when combined. Instead of demanding Iran to permanently give up its right to enrichment in return for a non-permanent guarantee of access to fuel by the EU, Iran should be asked requested to freeze its enrichment programme as long as the EU and the US continue to provide it with security guarantees and access to nuclear fuel.

If the EU chooses to refrain from seeking a nuclear solution out of fear of angering the Bush administration, the IAEA will be wise to request mediation from states that have the courage to live up to their international obligations the next time the world faces a nuclear crisis.

The writer is a Middle East specialist at Johns Hopkins University

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