Sunday May 7, 2006
Merkel, the sensible ally
REUTERS: Merkel's visit to Washington in January was a success. The world is hoping this one is too
GERMAN Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit to the White House last week underlined the need to develop a rational, unified strategy for coping with Iran's nuclear program. Under Merkel's leadership, the German stance on the crisis over Iran's defiance of the International Atomic Energy Agency has become that of a reliable ally who is secure enough to propose sensible alternatives to President Bush's one-track Iran policy.
Germany's foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, recently called for direct talks between the United States and Iran as the best way to avoid having to choose between two intolerable options: an escalating confrontation that could lead to military attacks on Iranian nuclear sites or acquiescence in Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability. It is probably a safe assumption that Merkel, in her talk with Bush, offered similar advice.
Bush has rejected all such proposals in the past, preferring to seek a binding Security Council resolution that could lead to sanctions -- and eventually even military actions -- against Iran. But it is not too late for Bush to heed Merkel's sound advice. In a few short months, she has not only made Germany a key player in the complex efforts to resolve the Iran nuclear challenge, but also a crucial intermediary between Washington and Europe, between Europe and Russia, and even between the United States and Russia.
Merkel has been able to balance a clear-eyed appreciation of the Iranian threat with a recognition that the interests of all concerned parties are best served by a diplomatic resolution. After meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in late April, Merkel sent a firm yet carefully balanced message. She managed to indicate that the door was still open to a negotiated arrangement with Tehran while still insisting that Iran must honor commitments it made to the European triumvirate of France, Britain, and Germany to suspend the enrichment of uranium.
Because of Germany's significant trade relations with both Iran and Russia, Merkel is well suited to mediate in the complex maneuverings over Iran's nuclear program. Unlike her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, she has developed a relationship of trust with Bush. While sharing Putin's reluctance to impose harsh Security Council sanctions on Iran, she can press him to cooperate with his Western trading partners in resisting Iran's drive to become a nuclear power. And as the most popular leader in Europe, she has the credentials to tell Bush he should explore direct negotiations with the clerical regime in Iran.
Merkel is the right kind of ally at the right time. If Bush, whose approval ratings are in the low 30s, were wise enough to take her advice, some of her 80 percent approval rating might rub off on him.
© Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.