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Opinion: Sanctions Will Hurt Europe More Than Iran

Germany, France and Britain may refer Iran to the UN Security Council for nuclear breaches. But rather than solving the problem, the tactic creates new difficulties, says Deutsche Welle's Peter Philipp.

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There's vocal opposition in Europe to Iran's nuclear dabbling

The simmering anger in Berlin, London and Paris in the last few days was an indication that Iran's resumption of research into nuclear fuel -- particularly at the highly controversial Natan enrichment plant -- would not be without a drastic reaction.

But the EU troika foreign ministers' decision to refer Iran to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and if necessary haul it before the UN Security Council, doesn't do justice to the expectations. Instead, it's akin to making a mountain of a molehill.

New, bigger headaches?

The Europeans have once again shown they aren't in a position to solve international problems. In this case, they have not only failed to solve the problem, but perhaps also created the basis for new and bigger ones.

Should the US get its way and push through the imposition of sanctions on Iran in the UN Security Council, people in Washington as well as in Brussels, as indeed elsewhere in Europe, are well aware that such sanctions -- no matter how they are formulated -- aren't an effective way of getting a country "on the right course."

It didn't work in Iraq or in Cuba and it has an even slimmer chance of working in Iran.

Sanctions would be counterproductive

That's because Iran currently earns well with its oil and gas exports and the Iranian people too, despite all the criticism, are firmly backing their government on the nuclear issue.

Sanctions would just drive the Iranians into the arms of their conservative leadership. They would also be counterproductive for the economic interests of the Europeans, who have until now furiously wooed Iran on trade issues.

Besides, it isn't even clear yet whether sanctions will be agreed upon and whether they can then be forced on Iran. China, for instance, probably won't be interested in doing so, since it is dependant on Iran for oil and gas. And even Russia's stance is ambiguous, given that Moscow is deeply involved in the development of Iran's nuclear plants.

Possible bitter retaliation

But the biggest fallout from forced sanctions could be Iran's decision to get out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The country has been complying with the treaty's guidelines so far, allowing the inspection of its nuclear facilities and cooperating with the Vienna-based IAEA.

But all that could, with one stroke, come to an abrupt halt. That would in turn increase mistrust on the part of the Americans and some of the Europeans and would lead to a deadlock, since the use of force would continue to be ruled out -- the lessons of Iraq were memorable enough.

The developments in Tehran will be followed calmly, because everyone knows well that sanctions would probably hurt the Europeans more than Iran. That is common knowledge in Washington and also a source of regret.

Europe just a paper tiger

But what is even more regrettable is the fact that Europe has once again shown itself to be a paper tiger and exposed itself to ridicule by the hardliners in Tehran. It's happened before, when the former Ayatollah Ali Khomeini sneered at the exit of European diplomats: "Let them go: They'll come crawling back again."

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