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Europe

Opinion: Carrot and Stick for Iran

While the US is willing to offer economic incentives to Iran, the EU said it will take Tehran to the UN Security Council over its nuclear program if need be. The join strategy won't help much, says DW's Peter Philipp.

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Are Iranians turning a blind eye to EU and US threats?

The EU and the US seem to have agreed on a "carrot and stick" approach as far as Iran's nuclear ambitions are concerned. They seem to employ this tactic with changing roles: While the US so far has appeared to ready itself to attack Iran, Europe focused on diplomacy. Negotiating in Tehran, the "EU troika," France, Britain and Germany, managed to convince Iran's leaders to at least halt their uranium enrichment program.

While Europe has failed to give Iran anything in exchange, the US now seems to make up for this by offering to end its blockade of Iran's ambitions to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) and allow Iran to import spare parts for its ageing commercial airlines fleet.

As Washington seems to be softening, Europeans are becoming more resolute. They're not in a hurry -- "Tehran won't do anything as long as we keep talking," they seem to think. But Europe's negotiators have now said they will take Iran to the UN Security Council should Tehran prove to be uncooperative.

Newfound unity

Condoleezza Rice in Luxemburg Javier Solana

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana (left) kisses the hand of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Luxembourg on Feb. 10

While the change of roles might come as a surprise, it seems to say more about the changing relationship between the US and Europe than a change in policy towards Iran. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice obviously managed to find common ground, including on the subject of Iran, during her latest visits to Europe. That wasn't difficult as the powers on both sides of the Atlantic are deeply concerned about Iran's possible acquisition of nuclear weapons.

Washington meanwhile is emphasizing that the "incentives" are not meant to be understood as rewards and keeps pointing out that it will resort to different methods in a case of emergency. Such methods could range from further sanctions to a military attack.

Ineffective strategy

Even Europeans don't seem to rule out the latter categorically any longer. Washington and Brussels should know, however, that taking matters to the Council and -- especially -- military pressure won't do much good.

For the time being, the US remains tied up in Iraq and really cannot afford another military adventure in the region. A condemnation of Iran's behavior by the Council is highly unlikely: China has signed far-reaching oil contracts with Iran and Russia has expanded its cooperation with Tehran in the nuclear sector. Neither country has an interest in imposing sanctions on Iran and will likely veto such a step. Washington's "incentives" are also unlikely to force Tehran on a more docile course: The WTO admissions process takes years and Iran feels it has a right to become a member -- just like it feels that it has a right to continue its uranium enrichment program.

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