[VIEWPOINT]The Europeans, Iran and the nuclear issue

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[VIEWPOINT]The Europeans, Iran and the nuclear issue

Proliferation has become one of the major threats of our time. Trafficking is increasing in materials, technology and means of missile delivery. Scientists are crossing borders to give their expertise to illegal programs. The result: States previously without weapons of mass destruction are today on the point of acquiring them.
Proliferation exploits the weaknesses of globalization: free flow of trade, access to confidential information, impenetrable financial networks. Today it is no longer only arms sales that have to be controled, but also the spread of sensitive intelligence, delivery of electronic components and technological cooperation.
Why does this development arouse concern? Above all because it adds to the problems we face in crisis regions from North Korea to the Middle East. Proliferation is putting a lit match to a powder keg. It is time to extinguish it.
For decades, international agreements have proved their effectiveness. The 20 nuclear states that President Kennedy feared at the beginning of the 1960s haven’t emerged: the Non-Proliferation Treaty has defeated those predictions. But these agreements have been circumvented in the past and the future danger is greater. They have to be enforced and implemented.
Iran is a test case. For decades that country has sought to acquire a nuclear energy production capacity. This is a legitimate ambition. But it will remain so only if Iran provides proof of the strictly civilian nature of her program. Yet the International Atomic Energy Agency’s reports have raised doubts throughout the international community. In the face of the Iranian ambitions, concern is growing.
The alternative is clear: either we let the country pursue illegal activities, with the certain knowledge that this is bound to end in a confrontation leading to an impasse, or we embark on a demanding dialogue allowing us to find a way out which is in everyone’s interest. By going to Tehran on Oct. 21, my British and German colleagues and I resolutely chose the second option.
We did this for Iran because we strongly believe that she has to exercise major responsibilities in the region. The restoration of confidence must allow Iran to become a genuine pole of development and stability. Her history, geographical situation, people and wealth of natural resources all predispose her to this.
We are doing this for Europe. Our continent maintains long-standing and deep-rooted ties with the Iranian culture and people. It cannot turn its back on a state with which it has for years maintained a dialogue which balks at none of the issues of concern to us: human rights, terrorism and regional security. Nor can it ignore the unacceptable risks which an Iran with nuclear weapons would present for it. By taking the initiative, we are restating Europe’s mission of defending its own strategic interests.
We are also doing this for the Middle East, whose peoples long for security, peace and development.
Finally, we are doing it for the international community, driven by the concern to define a new method of settling proliferation crises. As every one can see: regardless of whether the country involved is Iraq, North Korea or Iran, we need effective monitoring procedures and appropriate means of response. We have to be capable of weighing up the risks, achieving transparency on the programs and dismantling banned installations.
For months now, the warnings have been increasing: European Council conclusions, a G8 declaration on nonproliferation, a resolution of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s governing board. These set out the demands on Iran. It is these that the Iranian authorities accepted during our visit to Tehran on Oct. 21: wholehearted cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, signature and quick implementation of a strengthened guarantees agreement and suspension of uranium-enrichment activities.
These commitments will naturally have to be verified and implemented. But we are on the right path: that of working together and understanding our mutual requirements. Our discussions are the fruit of a long process. They have been conducted in a spirit of mutual respect, with the genuine will to reach a successful conclusion. It’s for us to keep up the momentum.
Our initiative goes beyond the single case of Iran.
Firstly, it illustrates what the Europeans can do when they can themselves assess the threats, decide on the appropriate responses and then implement them. A strong Europe is in everyone’s interest: that of our fellow European citizens, who thus see their security better guaranteed; the United States who cannot but welcome this additional backing for the pursuit of stability and peace; Russia whose ties with Iran will be able to develop more easily in a climate of confidence; and the multilateral forums, whose resolutions are more likely to be complied with.
Our initiative also reflects a requirement at the heart of French diplomacy: collective responsibility. When it comes to proliferation, the international community will obtain lasting success only if it demonstrates unity and determination. Strict compliance with international commitments must be guaranteed. This requires establishing effective monitoring mechanisms, for example by creating in the United Nations a permanent corps of inspectors.
New instruments must also be developed with due regard for the existing legal rules: France’s active participation in the American anti-proliferation initiative testifies to this. In future, thanks to the commitments made in this framework, it will be possible to inspect cargoes of illicit weapons and dry up the supplies of the largest networks.
Thanks to this principle of collective responsibility we have made headway in Iran. It must enable us to take still more important steps in the Middle East. No one can resign themselves to the existence of a crisis, which always bolsters violence and extremism. How many more days of mourning and hatred will that region have to endure? It is time we all got to work to force the doors of peace.
The principles we have applied vis-a-vis Iran ― unity of the Europeans, respect for our partner and a dialogue with her which does not gloss over anything, together with a clear-sighted analysis of the stakes and firm objectives ―must go on inspiring Europe and its allies throughout the region.
They will not bring any immediate solution. But they will allow us to move from crisis to confidence and from silence to dialogue. As in the case of Iran, that would be a milestone.

* The writer is minister of foreign affairs of France. The French version of this comment was published by Le Figaro.

by M. Dominique de Villepin
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