Europeans Pressure Iran to End Protest Crackdown

AMSTERDAM (AP) - Europe has stepped up pressure on Iran to end
its bloody crackdown on street protests, feeling less constrained
to speak out than President Barack Obama - who has made engagement
with the Islamic Republic a keystone of U.S. foreign policy.

But like Obama, European leaders have tempered their reaction,
wary of crossing a line that could make matters worse for the
dissenters in Tehran and undermine efforts to contain Iranian
nuclear ambitions.

There has been no talk of diplomatic sanctions or curtailing
business ties, which could rebound against Europe at a time when
Iran is increasingly seen as an essential partner in dealing with
regional issues from Afghanistan and Iraq to the Arab-Israeli
conflict.

In a coordinated action Monday, European countries summoned
Iranian diplomats to their foreign ministries to deliver stern
warnings against continuing the violence meted out to demonstrators
who allege that the outcome of Iran's June 12 presidential election
was rigged.

The Czech Republic, which holds the rotating presidency of the
27-nation European Union, rejected Iranian claims of interference,
telling the country's ambassador in Prague that the EU has the
right to question "whether the objective criteria of a transparent
and democratic electoral process have been upheld in any country."

The Czech Foreign Ministry also expressed "revulsion at the
documented police violence against peaceful protesters," and asked
all EU countries to pass on the same message through diplomatic
channels.

The European response is an attempt to strike a balance. They
must respond to public pressure at home, where Iranian expatriates
and their supporters have demonstrated by the thousands in European
capitals, while avoiding any perception of fomenting riots inside
Iran and prompting Iran to take even tougher measures.

The United States has little leverage with Tehran. Formal
relations were broken off after hardline students stormed the U.S.
Embassy in Tehran in 1979, and the U.S. has imposed trade sanctions
on all but humanitarian goods and basic foodstuffs.

The Europeans, who have extensive trade ties with Iran, are the
lead negotiators in trying to rein in Iran's nuclear program to
prevent it from producing weapons, and they are reluctant to use
their economic leverage over the election protests.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on Iran to recount
the votes of the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad, but stopped short of alleging electoral fraud. She
also urged Iran to stop using force against demonstrators, free
detained opposition members and allow free media reporting.

On Monday, her spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm rejected Tehran's
charges of European meddling in Iran's domestic affairs. "We have
instead demanded that international laws be upheld," he told
reporters in Berlin.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been outspoken in his
criticism of Iran's response to the demonstrations, but said doors
must remain open to continue talks on the country's nuclear
program.

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana,
criticized Iran's expulsion of a British reporter and the
prevention of coverage of the protests by foreign media.

Such tough talk has allowed Europe to take the heat for the
U.S., which would otherwise be an easy target for the Iranian
regime.

The Obama administration has refrained from commenting on Iran
since last week, when the president challenged Iran's government to
halt a "violent and unjust" crackdown on dissenters. Republican
members of Congress criticized his response as timid and questioned
why he was allowing the Europeans to take the lead.

"The last thing that I want to do is to have the United States
be a foil for those forces inside Iran who would love nothing
better than to make this an argument about the United States,"
Obama said in an interview taped Friday and broadcast Monday. "We
shouldn't be playing into that."

That suits the Iranian leadership, which also doesn't want a
fight with the American president, says Clara O'Donnell, a research
fellow at the European Institute for Policy Reform in London.

Iran's wrath has been particularly fierce against Britain, she
said. At Friday prayers, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei accused Western countries of blatant interference,
singling out Britain as "the most evil among them."

"It's interesting that the U.K. is being targeted, not the
U.S.," said O'Donnell. "The Iranian regime doesn't want to close
off that avenue completely, and it's easier to portray the U.K. as
the problem because at the end of the day they know the real
country they need to deal with is the U.S."

On Monday, Britain became the first country to order the
evacuation of families of diplomatic staff in Tehran, saying they
were unable to lead normal lives in the strife-filled city. A
Foreign Office statement said staff members were not being
withdrawn, and it was not advising other British citizens to leave.

Europeans are expected to continue collaborating on their
response, and the Iranian issue will be up for discussion in coming
meetings. Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, whose country
heads the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said
developments in Iran were sure to be come up at an OSCE meeting
this weekend on Corfu.

Iran's first direct confrontation with Europe could come at a
foreign minister's meeting this week in Italy of the Group of Eight
industrialized countries and several other nations, to which Tehran
is invited.

But in a sign of testiness with Iran, Italy said Monday it was
rejecting Iran's invitation to the upcoming G-8 conference because
the country had failed to meet a Monday deadline to state whether
it would attend.

Italy has instructed its embassy in Iran to provide humanitarian
aid to protesters wounded during the clashes, pending a EU-wide
proposal to coordinate assistance, said Foreign Ministry spokesman
Maurizio Massari. The Italian Embassy has received no such requests
for assistance, he said.


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