What line should the EU take on economic sanctions towards Iran?
This is one of the crucial questions at the informal meeting with EU Foreign Ministers, starting tomorrow.
Angela Merkel´s statement last week on Iran has been interpreted as a shift towards a tougher German position (excellently described by Judy Dempsey in today´s IHT).
Merkel mentioned sanctions “in the energy, financial and other important sectors” if Iran does not change its nuclear policy. It is not clear whether this view is shared by the entire government, including Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
So far, the issue of economic sanctions has been controversial within the EU. Sweden is one of the countries with reservations about their effectiveness, and the consequences should the EU take such a decision without agreement in the UN Security Council. Carl Bildt has earlier spoken out against sanctions, warning that “to isolate Iran even more is to lock them in among the dark forces”.
Most likely the E3 (France, Germany, and the UK) will tomorrow inform other EU governments about consultations with the US, Russia and China yesterday. Maybe the big three will seek support for stricter economic sanctions as the next step.
Since the Italian Presidency in 2003, the E3 (and to some extent, Javier Solana), has had a mandate to conduct negotiations on the nuclear issue with Iran on the EU´s behalf. No EU Presidency from other member states has played a significant role in these negotiations.
Economic sanctions are something else, however. The Swedish EU Presidency will be keen not to be sidestepped in such discussions. This is perhaps the most sensitive issue at the Gymnich meeting.
My qualified guess is that the Swedish government will play down the Iran issue when talking to the media during the informal Stockholm meeting, maybe stating that it is not yet mature. A conclusive discussion on sanctions will be relevant only later this autumn, the message might be, after consultations in connection with the UN General Assembly on Iran´s response.
Instead, the media spin on Gymnich will probably be based on Carl Bildt´s recent visit to Afghanistan and Javier Solana´s report on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Still, Sweden´s ability to keep the EU together on the issue of sanctions towards Iran will be a decisive test for Carl Bildt.