The World from Berlin 'Iran Is Playing with Fire'

With international pressure mounting against Iran to end its nuclear ambitions, the country has begun ominously rattling its sabers in the Persian Gulf. German commentators on Monday urge caution on both sides.

An Iranian naval vessel fires a missile during war games on Sunday.

An Iranian naval vessel fires a missile during war games on Sunday.

Tensions between Iran and the West escalated again on Monday as Tehran announced it had test-fired two long-range missiles in international waters near the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

"We have successfully test-fired long-range shore-to-sea and surface-to-surface missiles, called Qader (capable) and Nour (Light) today," Deputy navy Commander Mahmoud Mousavi told state television.

Amid ongoing international criticism of Iran's nuclear program, the missile launches were Tehran's latest show of force in military exercises started in response to the pressure. Monday's maneuvers came after the country announced the launch of a medium range missile the day before.

The so-called war games could bring Iranian ships near US naval forces operating in the Persian Gulf. Both the US and Israel have not ruled out a military response in the conflict over Iran's nuclear ambitions, and US forces based in Bahrain have said they will not allow a closure of the important Strait of Hormuz -- through which 40 percent of the world's crude oil is transported.

Iranian officials have made conflicting statements about possibly blocking the passage if sanctions were imposed on its oil exports, which are vital to the country's economy. Despite threats to the contrary from Iranian officials last week, on Monday military officials insisted there were no plans to close the waterway. "No order has been given for the closure of the Strait of Hormuz. But we are prepared for various scenarios," navy chief Habibollah Sayyari told state television. Deputy navy Commander Mahmoud Mousavi called the military excercises a "tactical" expression of the country's ability to control the strait if necessary.

Fuel Rod Breakthrough

Tehran continues to deny that it is attempting to build nuclear weapons, insisting their program is for generating electricity alone. On Sunday, Iranian state television announced a breakthrough in their nuclear progress, reporting the country had produced uranium fuel rods for power plant use for the first time.

The conflict with the West over the program has intensified since US President Barack Obama approved new sanctions on Saturday against financial institutions that do business with Iran's central bank. Obama will have the option of applying the sanctions flexibly, and depending on how strictly they are enforced, the sanctions could block oil refiners from buying crude oil from Iran, the world's fourth largest producer of the crucial product.

The United Nations Security Council has already implemented four rounds of international sanctions against Iran in hopes of discouraging the country's nuclear ambitions. The European Union is now also considering a ban on Iranian crude oil imports. But on Saturday Iranian media reported that a nuclear negotiator would likely signal a new willingness to resume EU talks on the matter.

With international talks stalled for almost a year now, EU officials welcomed news of the offer. But Iran would not be allowed to impose any pre-conditions on such negotiations, a spokesperson for EU foreign affairs representative Catherine Ashton said on Sunday.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle's had a similar reaction, encouraging Iran to abandon vague proclamations and urging the country to undertake "concrete, verifiable action" in the matter.

German commentators on Monday warned both sides to exercise caution in the potentially explosive conflict.

Center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"The United States and Iran are playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse. … It remains unclear just how strict the US government will be in applying the new sanctions. The White House can approve exceptions. But if punishments are pushed through to their full extent, they will amount to an economic blockade against Iran."

"The US sanctions are the toughest yet to be levied against Tehran in the battle over Iran's nuclear program. And they are risky. In the past, when such blockades were enforced by military ships along foreign coasts, they were considered an act of war. If Iran's oil doesn't reach the world market, oil prices will reach painful levels for the West. Still, even if there is little to suggest that Iran will back down, it's worth a try. The alternatives would be far more uncomfortable: Iran with nuclear weapons or an Israeli military strike."

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"It's nothing new for Iran to emit a deafening war cry, only to offer barely believable new talks over its nuclear program shortly thereafter. That the estranged leadership in Tehran rarely speaks with one voice is also well-known."

"But new and sobering are the similar signals coming out of the US. When Washington votes in favor of tougher sanctions against Iran, even as President Barack Obama adds that he is not in agreement, their allies should take notice."

"There are good arguments for and against these sanctions. However it's important that such invasive measures be approved on an international level. They should not be the result of domestic policy maneuvering."

"The West must be as consistent and resolved as possible in reacting to Iran's charades. A devious and half-hearted implementation of tougher sanctions only offers the regime an unnecessary open flank."

Conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"Ten years ago former US President George W. Bush coined the phrase "axis of evil" when he gave his State of the Union speech on Jan. 29, 2002, describing Iraq, Iran and North Korea as regimes who aimed to threaten the West with terror and weapons of mass destruction. In Europe, no one wanted to accept this culturally antiquated moral-religious speech, also finding the term 'axis' confusing, as it implied these nations were forming an alliance. … Today, Iran, Syria and North Korea do advise and support each other about rockets and even nuclear questions."

"Bush was right in his diagnosis. Dictators remain dictators, evil and hostile. One shouldn't tolerate them, and must instead fight them with all possible means. Especially Iran and North Korea."

The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Iran is playing with fire. With even the tiniest wrong move, the Middle East could be left in flames. … According to an Iranian General, closing the Strait (of Hormuz) would be as simple as drinking a glass of water. But Iran would only be harming itself that way."

"The country's Arabic neighbors are alarmed. Even the threat of closing the strait is tantamount to blackmail. They turn cold with the thought that Iran could soon be armed with atomic weapons, becoming even more aggressive. The only way to prevent this is once again more weapons from America."

-- Kristen Allen


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