Washington, DC, Aug 6 - When U.S. President Bill Clinton signed into law new legislation aimed at curbing terrorism by Iran and Libya on Monday, European governments reacted with pious indignation. "Threatening extraterritorial sanctions against European companies that invest a certain amount in these countries is the wrong way" to prevent terrorism, said German Economics Minister Guenter Rexrodt.
The law compels the U.S. President to impose sanctions on the American-based operations of foreign corporations that make new investments of $40 million or more in the oil and gas industries of Iran and Libya. Oil revenues comprise more than 80% of Iran's and Libya's GDPs.
The European Union has condemned the measure as "U.S. bullying," and is threatening protectionist measures against U.S. firms. The retaliatory regulations currently under review by the European Commission would make it illegal for any American resident in Europe to comply with the U.S. anti-terrorist legislation.
"We in the European Union fully support the determination of the United States to combat terrorism," said Sir Leon Brittan, Vice President of the European Commission. But the Iran-Libya sanctions signed into law by President Clinton on Monday "establishes the unwelcome principle that one country can dictate the foreign policy of others," Sir Leon said.
Seen from Washington, the European reaction smacks of insincerity, at best, since the Clinton administration has engaged in a massive diplomatic campaign over the past three years to win European support for a tougher approach toward Iran and Libya. "The Europeans have been briefed at every level, from the President on down," said one senior U.S. official engaged in these efforts. "This is an important issue and it has been pressed vigorously and constantly, through detailed discussions and intelligence exchanges."
At one recent session in Washington, European diplomats were shown satellite photographs of terrorist training camps in Iran, where the U.S. believes the Islamic Republic has trained Hezbollah operatives who have carried out terrorist attacks in Lebanon, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain. Said one Belgian diplomat who attended the session: "We were not impressed. The United States has never presented convincing evidence of Iran's involvement in terrorism."
Ironically, some of the best information on Iranian state terrorism in recent years comes from European courts, which have investigated a spate of terrorist attacks against Iranian exiles living in Europe. In France, Germany, Turkey, and Italy, investigators have followed the trail of the assassins directly back to government offices in Tehran or to embassies and consulates of the Islamic Republic in Europe.
In Austria, the Vienna police actually detained a senior Islamic Republic official who was wounded while participating in the assassination of Iranian Kurdish leader Abdulrahman Qassemlou in July 1989. They released him a few weeks later under political pressure from Tehran. Last month, the same official led a military operation against Iranian Kurds living in northern Iraq.
But Iran's terror network is not confined to attacks against Iranian exiles, dismissed by one European Union official here as "road kill."
In Bahrain, with help from British intelligence, government officials have exposed an Iranian-backed terrorist network that has carried out bombings aimed at overthrowing the pro-Western Emir. In Israel, the CIA believes Iran directed at least one of the suicide bombings that killed 59 people in February and March. Now U.S. investigators are exploring possible links between the Islamic Republic and the bombing in Dhahran in June and the downing of TWA flight 800. For the Islamic Republic, terrorism is an instrument of state policy. But because Tehran has directed its terrorist attacks primarily against the United States and U.S. allies in the Middle East, Europe has managed to stand aloof, while maintaining extensive commercial ties to Tehran.
The leaders of the Islamic Republic have been heartened by Europe's cynical dialogue with Tehran, and have gleefully exploited European greed. They believe that by offering commercial incentives to European firms they can drive a wedge between European governments and the United States, which will enable them - literally - to get away with murder.
The Islamic Republic's ambassador to Germany, Seyed Hossein Mousavian, expressed this approach perfectly in an interview granted to a German newspaper in June. Germany could expect to win $25 billion in fresh business with Iran, he said, as long as Bonn did "not yield to the will of the United States."
The terror apparatus of the Islamic Republic is not merely some kind of malignant appendage to an otherwise healthy body: it is a way of government. Potential terrorist operations are drafted by the intelligence services and then proposed to the leadership. Before they can be carried out, they must be approved personally by President Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i. For each attack against U.S., Israeli, or Saudi targets that is finally approved, many others have been rejected because of the risk they might be traced back to Tehran. (Only when it assassinates Iranian dissidents does the Islamic Republic like its fingerprints to appear).
Few European officials will privately dispute the facts of Iranian government support for international terrorism. Nor will they argue the dangers presented by the Islamic Republic's pursuit of nuclear weapons, or its abysmal violation of human rights. But they fiercely contend that punishing Tehran is the wrong approach. The problem is, they offer no alternative to their own crass mercantilism, and have nothing to show for years of concessions except for billions of dollars of questionable business deals.
The case with Libya is only slightly different. Europe has supported limited United Nations sanctions against Tripoli, which counter-terrorism experts believe have had a deterrent effect on strongman Mohammar Qaddafi and have prevented specific terrorist acts. However, sanctions alone have been unable to force Mr. Qaddafi to hand over the two Libyan intelligence agents indicted for their role in the Pan Am 103 tragedy in Lockerbie, when 270 persons perished. Stronger medicine is clearly needed, but President Clinton has failed to demonstrate the leadership necessary to galvanize Europe into a united front while the Europeans have steadfastly refused tougher measures against Tehran and Tripoli, preferring to lick past wounds than to suffer further economic loss. Embargoes are not always effective, but Europe's coy refusal to acknowledge the need for more effective action against terrorism harks back to a darker era, when Prime Ministers in Paris and London brilliantly announced "peace in our time." Today's slogan, more aptly phrased, would be "jobs in our time."
This is the little Europe, the Europe of appeasement, the Europe that prefers cynical business dealings with powers which spurn the values that have made Europe and America repositories of decency and freedom.
Today Europe must choose between its cynical dialogue with foreign tyranny, or its two hundred-year old friendship with America. This is a core issue that defines strategic relationships. Libya and the Islamic Republic of Iran have understood this: Europe should, too.
Kenneth Timmerman is the Executive Director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran (FDI). FDI is a private, non-profit corporation registered in the State of Maryland. FDI materials, including the FDI News Update, are available free-of-charge via the Internet at http://www.iran.org/.