Europe should join the fight

against terrorism

Wall Street Journal-Europe (editorialpage),

August 8, 1996

© Copyright 1996 by Kenneth R. Timmerman


Washington, DC, Aug 6 - When U.S. President Bill Clinton signedinto law new legislation aimed at curbing terrorism by Iran and Libyaon Monday, European governments reacted with pious indignation."Threatening extraterritorial sanctions against European companiesthat invest a certain amount in these countries is the wrong way" toprevent terrorism, said German Economics Minister GuenterRexrodt.

The law compels the U.S. President to impose sanctions on theAmerican-based operations of foreign corporations that make newinvestments of $40 million or more in the oil and gas industries ofIran and Libya. Oil revenues comprise more than 80% of Iran's andLibya's GDPs.

The European Union has condemned the measure as "U.S. bullying,"and is threatening protectionist measures against U.S. firms. Theretaliatory regulations currently under review by the EuropeanCommission would make it illegal for any American resident in Europeto comply with the U.S. anti-terrorist legislation.

European insincerity.

"We in the European Union fully support the determination of theUnited States to combat terrorism," said Sir Leon Brittan, VicePresident of the European Commission. But the Iran-Libya sanctionssigned into law by President Clinton on Monday "establishes theunwelcome principle that one country can dictate the foreign policyof others," Sir Leon said.

Seen from Washington, the European reaction smacks of insincerity,at best, since the Clinton administration has engaged in a massivediplomatic campaign over the past three years to win European supportfor a tougher approach toward Iran and Libya. "The Europeans havebeen briefed at every level, from the President on down," said onesenior U.S. official engaged in these efforts. "This is an importantissue and it has been pressed vigorously and constantly, throughdetailed discussions and intelligence exchanges."

At one recent session in Washington, European diplomats were shownsatellite photographs of terrorist training camps in Iran, where theU.S. believes the Islamic Republic has trained Hezbollah operativeswho have carried out terrorist attacks in Lebanon, Israel, SaudiArabia, and Bahrain. Said one Belgian diplomat who attended thesession: "We were not impressed. The United States has neverpresented convincing evidence of Iran's involvement interrorism."

Ironically, some of the best information on Iranian stateterrorism in recent years comes from European courts, which haveinvestigated a spate of terrorist attacks against Iranian exilesliving in Europe. In France, Germany, Turkey, and Italy,investigators have followed the trail of the assassins directly backto government offices in Tehran or to embassies and consulates of theIslamic Republic in Europe.

In Austria, the Vienna police actually detained a senior IslamicRepublic official who was wounded while participating in theassassination of Iranian Kurdish leader Abdulrahman Qassemlou in July1989. They released him a few weeks later under political pressurefrom Tehran. Last month, the same official led a military operationagainst Iranian Kurds living in northern Iraq.

But Iran's terror network is not confined to attacks againstIranian exiles, dismissed by one European Union official here as"road kill."

In Bahrain, with help from British intelligence, governmentofficials have exposed an Iranian-backed terrorist network that hascarried out bombings aimed at overthrowing the pro-Western Emir. InIsrael, the CIA believes Iran directed at least one of the suicidebombings that killed 59 people in February and March. Now U.S.investigators are exploring possible links between the IslamicRepublic and the bombing in Dhahran in June and the downing of TWAflight 800. For the Islamic Republic, terrorism is an instrument ofstate policy. But because Tehran has directed its terrorist attacksprimarily against the United States and U.S. allies in the MiddleEast, Europe has managed to stand aloof, while maintaining extensivecommercial ties to Tehran.

The leaders of the Islamic Republic have been heartened byEurope's cynical dialogue with Tehran, and have gleefully exploitedEuropean greed. They believe that by offering commercial incentivesto European firms they can drive a wedge between European governmentsand the United States, which will enable them - literally - to getaway with murder.

The Islamic Republic's ambassador to Germany, Seyed HosseinMousavian, expressed this approach perfectly in an interview grantedto a German newspaper in June. Germany could expect to win $25billion 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 somekind of malignant appendage to an otherwise healthy body: it is a wayof government. Potential terrorist operations are drafted by theintelligence services and then proposed to the leadership. Beforethey can be carried out, they must be approved personally byPresident Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah AliKhamene'i. For each attack against U.S., Israeli, or Saudi targetsthat is finally approved, many others have been rejected because ofthe risk they might be traced back to Tehran. (Only when itassassinates Iranian dissidents does the Islamic Republic like itsfingerprints to appear).

Few European officials will privately dispute the facts of Iraniangovernment support for international terrorism. Nor will they arguethe dangers presented by the Islamic Republic's pursuit of nuclearweapons, or its abysmal violation of human rights. But they fiercelycontend that punishing Tehran is the wrong approach. The problem is,they offer no alternative to their own crass mercantilism, and havenothing to show for years of concessions except for billions ofdollars of questionable business deals.

Failed American Leadership

The case with Libya is only slightly different. Europe hassupported limited United Nations sanctions against Tripoli, whichcounter-terrorism experts believe have had a deterrent effect onstrongman Mohammar Qaddafi and have prevented specific terroristacts. However, sanctions alone have been unable to force Mr. Qaddafito hand over the two Libyan intelligence agents indicted for theirrole in the Pan Am 103 tragedy in Lockerbie, when 270 personsperished. Stronger medicine is clearly needed, but President Clintonhas failed to demonstrate the leadership necessary to galvanizeEurope into a united front while the Europeans have steadfastlyrefused tougher measures against Tehran and Tripoli, preferring tolick past wounds than to suffer further economic loss. Embargoes arenot always effective, but Europe's coy refusal to acknowledge theneed for more effective action against terrorism harks back to adarker era, when Prime Ministers in Paris and London brilliantlyannounced "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 Europethat prefers cynical business dealings with powers which spurn thevalues that have made Europe and America repositories of decency andfreedom.

Today Europe must choose between its cynical dialogue with foreigntyranny, or its two hundred-year old friendship with America. This isa core issue that defines strategic relationships. Libya and theIslamic Republic of Iran have understood this: Europe should,too.

Kenneth Timmerman is the Executive Director of the Foundationfor Democracy in Iran (FDI). FDI is a private, non-profit corporationregistered in the State of Maryland. FDI materials, including the FDINews Update, are available free-of-charge via the Internet at