The United States and the European Union have decided discreetly to join forces for a drive to draw a line on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Washington and Berlin report that Britain and Germany led off in the partnership with a silent nod from France. The Americans are paying for European collaboration in Iraqi currency.
As soon as it was settled, the new US-EU bloc slapped down what amounted to an ultimatum giving Iran until May 16 to demonstrate it has stopped enriching uranium completely. So far Tehran has not responded. Looming ahead in the near distance is a preliminary debate on Iran’s nuclear program at a Vienna board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency, followed by a UN Security Council session that could end up imposing sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
Neither date has been fixed but both bodies can be convened at short notice if the Americans, Europeans and UN secretary so decide.
The Americans and Europeans have agreed on the following strategy:
To act on the findings of a CIA report already drafted on the state of Iranian nuclear production. Washington has disclosed to London, Berlin, Paris and Rome that the report accuses the Iranian leadership of pulling out the stops on the manufacture of a nuclear bomb and large-scale enrichment of weapons grade uranium in order to get in ahead of a Security Council debate. Tehran has provided all the funds needed to push the program forward and keep it under wraps. The CIA report concludes: The Iranians are going full speed ahead in their bid to deceive the world.
The timeline is where the Iranian nuclear issue and Iraq’s immediate future interlock. Dates for putting Iran on the international hot plate will be fixed only after U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and his special envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Al Ibrahimi, have set the formula for the interim administration that will govern Iraq between the sovereignty handover date of June 30, 2004 and the January 2005 general elections.
If Tehran fails to meet the May 16 deadline for undertaking to cease uranium processing and enrichment, Europe will no longer stand in the way of a complaint going directly from the IAEA meeting in Vienna to a special Security Council session in New York.
The Bush administration’s quid pro quo for European cooperation on the Iranian nuclear issue is its consent, disclosed here by DEBKA-Net-Weekly, to Annan and European leaders picking an appointee acceptable to Washington for the key post of the UN-European Union’s Special Ambassador to Baghdad, effectively the most senior international diplomat in the Iraqi capital. The Americans have agreed that whoever is nominated will act as international point man for dealing with the provisional Iraqi government in the interim period until an elected administration is in place in Baghdad. However, Paul Bremer’s successor, US ambassador-designate to Baghdad John Negroponte, together with the US commanders, will run Iraq’s military and security affairs and be responsible for its frontiers.
It was agreed that the UN-European envoy chosen will be of the same high caliber as the late Sergio de Mello who died in the August 19 bombing of UN mission headquarters in Baghdad. He must be acceptable to President George W. Bush and have a track record of cooperation and trust with the United States.
This epic transition from US-European antagonism over Iraq to collaboration and accord has been overshadowed by the outcry over the gross mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib But, according to our political pundits, its importance cannot be overstated. The new, agreed formula allows for the Europeans and the United Nations to share the responsibility for the handover of authority in Baghdad. It positions a strong US-EU front in the world body able to block Arab tactics for defeating American steps in Iraq.
By opening the door for the United Nations and Europe to assume active roles in Iraq, Washington has smoothed the way for tough multinational action against Iran’s nuclear program and muted the resistance to US policies on a wide range of issues from Iraqi oil to relations with Saudi Arabia.
One of the sacrifices made on the altar of the new detente is the Bremer formula for Iraq’s post-transition governing body. His plan provided for a presidency rotating between the leaders of the three main Iraqi groups, Shiite Muslims, Sunni Muslims and Kurds, while the prime minister would be a technocrat and a Shiite in deference to Iraq’s largest community.
(Another aspect of the changes in store in the next article.)
This proposal had Middle East Arabs up in arms. One Arab leader protested that placing a Shiite at the head of an Arab country was undemocratic when Shiites make up no more than 15 percent of the Arab Muslim world. By leaving this contentious problem to the UN adviser, Bush distances the United States from the snares and complexities of Iraq’s domestic politics, retaining control of security and oil.
He also provides himself with a tool for disarming one of the key campaign arguments advanced by his Democratic rival, Senator John Kerry, against the Republican president’s failure to share Iraq decision-making with the world body and international community.