Iran is doing more these days than just ignoring global concerns over its nuclear program. The Islamic Republic is increasingly taunting the international community, making clear that it has no intention of abandoning its program and almost daring Western nations to stop it.
The situation raises serious questions and opportunities for Europe, which is increasingly threatened by Iran. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has warned Europe not to take Israel’s side in any dispute between Tehran and Tel Aviv. Meanwhile, Tehran and its terrorist client Hezbollah continue to recruit and train thousands of suicide bombers for possible attacks on the Continent.
The EU-3—Britain, France and Germany—have spent three fruitless years trying to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for trade and other benefits. They’ve come to realize—as some Iranian officials had told them from the start—that Tehran never intended to cut a deal.
The recent change of leadership in Paris could bring about a new European approach, one that relies much more on economic pressure. Clearly, the limited United Nations sanctions against Iran are not doing the trick. The EU-3 should rally the world’s major industrialized powers to tighten restrictions on trade and investment with Iran, which could prove very effective. Iran’s economy, including its energy sector, depends heavily on foreign investment. Although Iran is one of the world’s largest oil producers, it must import refined petroleum from abroad. Thanks to its dysfunctional economy, living standards for the average Iranian are already falling. This is fueling popular discontent, making the ruling mullahs increasingly nervous. The EU-3 is well-positioned to build a G-8 consensus on this issue. It can serve as a broker between the U.S., which wants to ramp up economic pressure while retaining a military option in case it fails, and Russia, which wants to prevent a larger U.S. military presence in the area.
And there is no time to lose. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently reported that Iran has made surprising progress in mastering the nuclear cycle. IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei believes Iran might be just three years away from producing nuclear weapons. A day after the IAEA issued its report, President Ahmadinejad made his intentions clear in a nationally televised speech: “The Iranian nation today has industrial nuclear technology and..it will never retreat even one step from this path.”
Emboldened by its nuclear progress, Iran’s government is ramping up the repression of its own people and Western citizens. Special “vice squads” are cracking down on people accused of “immoral behavior.” On May 10, for instance, security forces reportedly arrested over 80 young men at a birthday party on suspicions of being gay. The police led those arrested to the street, stripped many to the waist, and beat them until their backs and faces were bloody, according to Human Rights Watch. Young women who appear in public with their hair not fully covered are increasingly subject to arrests and beatings. The suppression of ethnic minorities is also rising. Over the past several months, Iranian security officials have carried out large-scale arrests and incommunicado detentions of Iranian Arabs, Kurds and Azeris, according to Amnesty International. The use of torture is widespread.
Westerners also face more risks when traveling to Iran. Haleh Esfandiari, a dual Iranian-American national and director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, was arrested in early May when she came to visit her 93-year-old mother. Charged with “crimes against national security,” Ms. Esfandiari is being held in solitary confinement in the notorious Evin prison. Two other Iranian-Americans, Kian Tajbakhsh, who is working for the Open Society Institute of George Soros, and businessman Ali Shakeri, are being held on similar charges.
An Iran armed with nuclear weapons will only feel freer to suppress its own people and expand its influence across the region. The fact that Iran has offered to share its nuclear knowledge with other states and groups and hinted at even using nuclear weapons itself paints a frightening scenario. German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned the West last year that it must avoid the mistakes of the 1930s when the world did not react strongly enough to the rise of Adolf Hitler. It is Europe’s duty to ensure that the past is not the prologue to the future.
Mr. Niebel is the secretary general of the Free Democratic Party, Germany’s largest opposition party, and a member of the Bundestag.
This article first appeared on the Wall Street Journal and is reprinted here with kind permission from the author. It has been modified from its original version. Click here to view the original article.
Related Materials from the Atlantic Community:
- John R. Bradley argues No Regime Change for Iran’s Ethnic Minorities
- Annette Pölking on Iran Deadline Expires Today: What Next?
- Maximilian Terhalle argues that Quid Pro Quo is Best Deal For US and Iran
- Yossi Mekelberg on Open Deterrence Against Iran Israel’s New Old Option