October 28, 2010 | New York Post

Europe Gets Tough with Iran; Obama Wants to Talk

The European Union approved a new round of tough sanctions against Iran this week . Instead of targeting individual Iranian officials with human rights violations as the US has done, the Europeans handed down new restrictions on Iran’s energy, banking and transportation sectors. One major impact may be the huge gas fields project at Rhum off the coast of Scotland, which is owned jointly by BP and Iranian Oil Company UK Ltd. A BP spokesman said they would review the new EU policy and “comply with the law.”

But as the Europeans get tougher about Iran’s quest for nukes, it seems as if the Obama administration is going soft. The Americans are still waiting for a response to their request for renewed negotiations with Tehran. But when the invitation for the talks was issued, Tehran responded with outrageous demands. “The Iranians have not responded to a request from Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, to meet in Vienna in mid-November. Iran insisted that Ms. Ashton first tell them when sanctions would end, when Israel would give up what it called “the Zionist bomb” and when the United States would eliminate its nuclear weapons.” This can only mean that the Persians are interested in buying more and more time.

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Mark Dubowitz worries that without strong policy from Washington, the effort to force Iran to give up their nukes quest will fail. “A fragile political consensus exists in favor of sanctions in Europe. If the Obama administration doesn’t provide determined leadership by either sanctioning foreign companies which are violating US law, or persuading these companies to terminate their Iranian ties, European governments will not enforce their own sanctions,” Dubowitz said.

An added concern is that as long as Iran’s Ahmadinejad can delay more Western sanctions he has found a willing and able partner to help avoid the full impact of sanctions in Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez. Chavez recently received a hero’s welcome on a visit to Tehran and as Ilan Berman suggests the goals of the two men really are in synch. “Amid mounting international pressure on Iran’s nuclear program, [Chavez] also has offered to help Tehran skirt sanctions. On the heels of Congressional passage of comprehensive energy sanctions against Iran this summer, Venezuela’s envoy to Tehran reiterated his government’s offer, made last year, to export as much as 20,000 barrels of gasoline daily to the Islamic Republic. Needless to say, should it materialize this commitment will deal a serious blow to American efforts to apply economic pressure on what is perhaps Iran’s Achilles’ heel: its heavy reliance on foreign refined petroleum.”

Perhaps one outcome from the mid-term elections that we can look forward to is a Republican Congress willing to push Obama to take a harder line on negotiations and sanctions going forward.