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Europe

Europe Gets in Step With US Policies in the Middle East

In 2003, most European nations were at odds with the US over its invasion plans for Iraq. Now, with a new set of challenges in the Middle East, Europe is increasingly aligned with Washington on the Hamas and Iran issues.

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The EU and the US are showing a united front on issues such as Hamas and Iran

German chancellor Angela Merkel held talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Berlin Friday in the second meeting since she took office in November.

After the meeting, both leaders stressed that the newly-installed Hamas government in the Palestinian authorities must renounce violence and recognize Israel if it wants to continue to receive funding from the European Union and be recognized by the international community.

Merkel and Blair also discussed Iran and both expressed hopes that the dispute over Iran's nuclear program could be resolved through negotiations. But both Germany and Britain have been taking an increasingly tough line on Iran; one which sits very comfortably with the long-standing US view that Iran should face sanctions over its atomic program which the White House believes cloaks an ambition to develop nuclear weapons.

Along with other European allies, both Germany and Britain seem to be stepping in time with the United States, not only on Iran but also on the approach to Hamas.

US President George W. Bush made it very clear where his administration stood after the Hamas election victory in January. "The United States does not support a political party that wants to destroy our ally Israel," Bush said after the elections on Jan. 25. "People must renounce that part of their platform. A political party that articulates the destruction of Israel as part of its platform is a party with which we will not deal."

Bush has threatened to stop direct aid to a Palestinian Authority (PA) in which the Islamist party plays a leading role, unless Hamas recognizes Israel's right to exist and renounce violence.

US and EU threaten to stop aid to Hamas

At the moment, the US holds the position that it will maintain support for humanitarian and related projects administered through non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and multilateral agencies in the Palestinian authorities, at least for the time being.

EU Nahostkonferenz in Den Haag Javier Solana

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana has issued his own threats

The European Union has followed a similar line since Hamas came to power. EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana has also threatened to cut off the substantial funding the European Union pumps into the Palestinian territories. Since 2003, the EU has contributed about half a billion euros ($610 million) annually, much of it towards fostering democracy and aiding social and environmental projects.

But Hamas's reaffirmation of its commitment to what it calls armed resistance to Israeli occupation has cast doubt on future cash flows. The EU "reiterated its position that there is no place in a political process for groups or individuals who advocate violence" but has said it is "ready to continue to support Palestinian economic development and democratic state building."

Germany holding the line

However, many are questioning the logic of continued channeling of funds to a region governed in future by a party that refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist -- Germany's Angela Merkel among them.

"Germany will not support a Palestinian Authority that does not recognize Israel," Merkel said during her Middle East visit in January. "We expect all political forces that assume responsibilities to firstly recognize Israel's right to exist, secondly not resort to violence and thirdly to accept steps already committed to in the peace process and to continue this process."

Tony Blair besucht Angela Merkel in Berlin

Merkel and Blair are singing from the same hymn sheet on Hamas

Britain and Blair, somewhat unsurprisingly, are also supporting the same approach as the United States towards Hamas.

"We have said we won't be able to have contact with a Hamas-led government unless it's clear they are prepared to forswear that part of their constitution which says they want rid of the state of Israel, and they are prepared to embrace democratic and peaceful means," Blair said in a parliamentary discussion earlier this month. "If they don't make those changes that will stand in the way of us being able to help."

When it comes to the Iran issue, the EU was seen for a long time as taking a more measured approach to the subject of Tehran's nuclear ambitions than the United States. From the start of the situation, the US has advocated economic sanctions while allowing the EU-3 of Germany, France and Britain to attempt to forge a diplomatic resolution.

EU's failure plays into Washington's hands

Washington, which cut of diplomatic ties with Iran in the 1970s, seemed impatient and at times frustrated with the EU-3's progress. Now it appears that the White House has played its hand well and is on the verge of getting what it wanted after watching the EU to fail.

Iran-Atompolitik - Steinmeier und EU-Kollegen

The foreign ministers of France, Britain, Germany and the EU called time on discussions with Iran

Since proclaiming that two years of diplomatic efforts had reached a dead-end, and with Iran breaking international seals and restarting enrichment plants, the EU troika has slowly but surely begun to harden its resolve.

Germany has moved closer to the US stance in the wake of the failed EU discussions. "It's essential, we feel, that the EU-3, together with the United States, take a common position here, become active," Merkel said following her first official meeting with Bush as German chancellor last month. "We will not be intimidated by any country such as Iran," she vowed, adding that it was essential to persuade as many countries as possible to speak with one voice on the issue.

EU-3 become more belligerent in tone towards Iran

Angela Merkel in Washington USA George Bush

After meeting with Bush, Merkel's stance on Iran hardened

That one voice seems to be that of the United States and it is one that is becoming more belligerent and increasingly popular with western allies. Angela Merkel followed up her "pledge of allegiance" speech in Washington with remarks at the International Security Conference in Munich in which she likened the threat posed by the Iranian regime to the rise of Hitler’s National Socialists in the early 1930s.

She compared Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statements against Israel to when Adolf Hitler came to power and began threatening to exterminate European Jews. "Remember that in 1933 many people said it was just rhetoric," Merkel said. The international community "must fight these beginnings now."

Britain’s Blair recently warned that Iran would be making a "very very serious mistake" if it thought the international community would allow it to acquire nuclear weapons. He told the parliamentary debate that while military action against Iran was "not on the agenda," he could "never say never."

Der neue französische Außenminister Phillipe Douste-Blazy

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste- Blazy caused outrage with incendiary comments

The French have also honed a harder edge of late and have voiced the exact fears and suspicions of the United States in recent days. French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy ratcheted up the pressure on Thursday, when he branded Iran's nuclear program for the first time as "clandestine" and "military." He told French television that no civilian nuclear program could explain Iran's activity.

After the rupture in relations between the United States and much of Europe over the invasion of Iraq, it now appears that European leaders are now more than happy to align themselves and their countries with US policy in the Middle East.

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