One might think that Europe would welcome Barack Obama with open arms, but according to Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post, Obama has them worried. Key European allies fear a rupture between the US and the Continent if Obama attempts to waive the precondition of enrichment cessation in dealing with Iran. While they would like to see a heavier emphasis on team play rather than American hegemony, Obama’s insistence on cozying up to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is far out of step with the rest of the West:
European officials are increasingly concerned that Sen. Barack Obama‘s campaign pledge to begin direct talks with Iran on its nuclear program without preconditions could potentially rupture U.S. relations with key European allies early in a potential Obama administration.
The U.N. Security Council has passed four resolutions demanding that Iran stop enriching uranium, each time highlighting the offer of financial and diplomatic incentives from a European-led coalition if Tehran suspends enrichment, a route to producing fuel for nuclear weapons. But Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has said he would make such suspension a topic for discussion with Iran, rather than a precondition for any negotiations to take place.
European officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said they are wary of giving up a demand that has been so enshrined in U.N. resolutions, particularly without any corresponding concessions by Iran. Although European officials are eager to welcome a U.S. president promising renewed diplomacy and multilateralism after years of tensions with the Bush administration, they feel strongly about continuing on the current path.
Obama’s response? Dr. Susan Rice told the Post that Europe has failed, and a new approach was needed. That ought to kick-start a new era in American diplomacy, eh?
While Europe may not care for the Bush administration’s tendency towards saber-rattling, they do not prescribe to the nonsense that dropping the precondition for ending enrichment would somehow make the Iranians more likely to stop. The EU has been on the front line of this issue for several years, and they have first-hand experience with Iranian lies and double-dealing. They understand that it will take a strong, united, and dominant front to force the Iranians into retreat on uranium enrichment.
At the moment, Europe has its hands full in pushing Russia and China into recognizing this, even with the US on board. An Obama presidency would put the US in a position even softer than that of Russia and China and give the Iranians a breath of fresh air. Obama’s team says such talks would provide the US with more leverage against Iran, but never quite explain how that would work. Supposedly, failed talks at the presidential level would prompt tougher sanctions from Russia and China, but why would they agree to that when their own failed talks with their own client did not? Why would they act tougher when the West acts weaker?
What Europe fears is the Chamberlain effect. When a leader of a democracy gets elected on a peace platform and then meets with the head of hostile states, a tremendous pressure for success grows until the democratic leader starts bargaining to show some kind of victory. After all, if Obama walked away from Ahmadinejad empty handed, he’d look like a buffoon. Ahmadinejad would have little pressure to produce anything from such a meeting, except to remain obstinate.
Europe likes to remind people that the preconditions of cessation are European demands, not American, although the US has supported it wholeheartedly. Obama’s insistence on dropping this precondition in order to score PR points with MoveOn and Ahmadinejad looks a lot less like multilateralism and much more like cowboy diplomacy than anything Bush has done on Iran thus far. If Obama is to Europe’s left on Iran, what does that say about his foreign policy?