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New Sanctions And Whispers Of War In Europe-Iran Standoff

Europe is threatening stiffer sanctions on Iran following a recent attack by students on the British Embassy in Tehran. Diplomacy remains the strategy of choice for the Europeans, but at least one German lawmaker isn’t ruling out military intervention.

Student protestors rally outside the British Embassy in Tehran, Iran on Tuesday, November 29
Student protestors rally outside the British Embassy in Tehran, Iran on Tuesday, November 29
Christoph B. Schiltz

BERLIN -- The conflict between Europe and Iran has escalated. E.U. foreign ministers have now agreed to work on sanctions that could include stopping oil imports and cutting Iran's financial system off from the West. "We decided that this time sanctions would be much harsher," said French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé.

The catalysts for the new measures under discussion were the attacks on the British Embassy in Tehran by Iranian students, and the expulsion of the British ambassador. In a statement, the minister said: "The Council views these actions against Great Britain as actions against the entire European Union."

The new sanctions will be finalized in January and will add another dimension to the conflict between the Europeans and Iranians over Tehran's alleged plans to produce atomic weapons. Germany, France and the United Kingdom expressed particularly strong support for harsher sanctions.

Cutting off oil imports from Iran has been repeatedly discussed in the past, but members could never agree on the matter. Greece and Italy have been vehemently opposed to the idea since both countries import significant amounts of their oil supply from Iran.

But now France's top diplomat, Juppé, is saying that the European Union will work together with various partners to increase deliveries from other countries to make up for the deliveries from Iran. "It's doable," he stressed.

Upping the ante

According to Walter Posch, an Iran expert at the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), such sanctions "will be interpreted by the Iranian government as a sign that the European Union is looking for regime change." And, Posch said, that would have consequences. For one thing, Tehran's willingness to cooperate in negotiations about its nuclear program could fade. There is also the danger that in the future the Iranian government could behave even more aggressively towards the West.

On the other hand, Posch said, the new sanctions are a lot more than pinpricks and will make the country's economic development – and with it, the survival of the present regime – that much more difficult. Iran presently sells nearly a fifth of its oil to Europe. That oil covers about 6% of the European Union's needs.

Earlier sanctions have already hurt Iran, said Posch: "They have contributed significantly to the country's underdevelopment." Up until now, 143 Iranian companies and organizations had been blacklisted. Following the recent ministerial meeting that number went up to 433.

The hardest hit companies are those that produce technology. Exempted from the sanctions are manufacturers of agricultural and pharmaceutical products. The ministers also raised the number of Iranian individuals who may not travel to the European Union from 37 to 113, although travel bans are symbolic more than anything else.

Not ruling out the military option

Israel, meanwhile, stated that the option to attack the Iranian nuclear program militarily remained open. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that Israel retains the option as a "last resort."

Barak added that he did not believe international sanctions against Iran would work. He also said Israel does not intend to launch a strike against Iranian nuclear facilities "at this point." "We don't need unnecessary wars. But we definitely might be put to the test," he said.

In Germany, Philipp Mißfelder, Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union spokesman for foreign policy issues in the German parliament, also said that military options with regard to Iran could not be excluded. First, however, sanctions should be tightened. "But I say very clearly that even those who want to put the focus on diplomatic efforts cannot entirely rule out a military option," Mißfelder said.

The politician went on to say that Iran was the biggest threat in the Middle East "because they are trying to produce an atomic bomb and would certainly not hold back from using it."

So far, Iran seems unimpressed by all the debates and the announcement of new sanctions. On Thursday, the government released 11 people who had been arrested for storming and plundering the British Embassy.

Brussels took this move to mean that the plunderers were being protected by influential circles in the regime. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has so far remained silent about the incident that led London to expel all Iranian diplomats in the United Kingdom and to close its embassy in Tehran. Berlin, Paris and The Hague have all recalled their ambassadors from Tehran.

German security operatives suspect Iran of planning strikes on U.S. military airports in Germany in the event of a U.S. attack on Iran. According to Posch, "Iran will attack a number of targets should it be attacked." These would include sites not only in Germany but in Turkey and the Gulf region as well. "It would depend on what military bases the Americans were launching their attacks from," he said.

Read the original story in German

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