R E G I O N: NATO chief urges Europe and US to agree Iran policy
* EU backs diplomacy to unlock Iran nuclear conundrum
* Iran warns US against making ‘strategic blunder’
BRUSSELS: NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer urged the United States and Europe on Friday to agree a common line on Iran ahead of a summit next month aimed at re-launching transatlantic ties.
Fears of an impending row over how to deal with suspicions that Tehran wants a nuclear bomb were heightened this week after President George W Bush said he would not rule out military action. The European Union insists diplomacy is the right approach. “It is the utmost importance that the European Union and the United States see eye to eye over Iran,” de Hoop Scheffer told reporters in Brussels.
“It is important that they find each other, that they both use the carrot and both use the stick,” he said. He said it would be a tactical mistake if Europe were just to offer Tehran inducements such as trade deals in return for giving up certain nuclear technology, while the United States wielded only threats.
The EU last week resumed negotiations with Iran on a trade and cooperation agreement after Tehran agreed to freeze uranium enrichment, a process that can be useful in bomb making. Washington has distanced itself in public from the EU effort, insisting Iran must be brought before the UN Security Council and face economic sanctions unless suspicions over its nuclear ambitions are proved to be unfounded.
Some analysts and diplomats believe Brussels and Washington are coordinating policy behind the scenes to apply pressure on Tehran with a “good cop, bad cop” routine. They play down the chances of Washington going ahead with military action.
Others fear the two are on course for a new row over Iran just as they bury their differences over the US-led war in Iraq, which led in 2003 to the deepest crisis in transatlantic relations since World War Two.
De Hoop Scheffer is preparing a summit at NATO headquarters on Feb. 22 to be attended by Bush and EU leaders, which is billed as a chance to relaunch the relationship.
Meanwhile, the European Union played down the threat of a US strike on Iran on Saturday, saying that a diplomatic solution to Tehran’s nuclear ambitions would ultimately be found. EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner told a German newspaper that ultimately the EU and the United States wanted the same outcome to discussions with Iran.
“Negotiations will be difficult, but I firmly believe that diplomatic efforts will be successful,” Ferrero-Waldner was quoted as saying in the Sunday newspaper Bild am Sonntag. “I base this on the fact that no one could underestimate the consequences of a military strike - not only on the region but also on relations between the Islamic world and the West,” she said in an advance extract.
On Sunday, Iran said it was not taking talk of a US attack seriously, but nevertheless cautioned Washington that military action against the Islamic republic would be a “major strategic blunder”.
“It’s nothing new. Once in a while America starts a psychological war,” spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters in response to a hardening of the tone by US officials against Iran. “The Islamic republic is strong enough and has the capability to defend itself, so we feel no danger or threat. We do not see it (a US attack) as likely, unless someone wants to make a major strategic blunder,” he said.
In separate comments carried by the state news agency IRNA, Intelligence Minister Ali Yunessi simply said any US attack would be “stupid” and “America’s biggest error”. He also vowed to “neutralise any plot”, saying security preparation had been underway for three years. agencies