Good Morning, Mr. President What Europe Wants from Obama
Part 3: 'On Iran, Precious Time Has Been Lost'
Hans Blix was head of the International Atomic Energy Agency from 1981 to 1997 following a stint as foreign minister of Sweden. In the three years leading up to the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, he was in charge of searching for weapons of mass destruction in the country.
The global financial system has been rocked by the recent crisis and Mr. Obama will have to bring about early discussions about a broader agenda and broader participation in the institutions for international financial cooperation like the IMF and the G-8. During a global recession he will have to resist protectionist pressures from important groups who supported him.
Obama should be able to use the strong public opinion in the US to make the country help frame drastic global policies against dangerous climate change and environmental destruction. Technological innovation should be promoted, like fuel cells for cars. Energy must be generated more efficiently and used less wastefully. Obama should stimulate the use of effective renewable sources and overcome any hesitation against a rapid expansion of nuclear power.
In international affairs, Obama will have to steer away from the arrogant unilateralism of the Bush years and explain to the public that the interdependence of states and peoples is fast accelerating. In this modern world a constructive use of multilateral institutions like the UN is a necessity. They are indispensable mechanisms where reconciliation of interests can take place and joint action can be organized.
Obama was ridiculed by his opponents for saying that he was ready to talk with adversaries. He was right and his administration should act on this principle. To talk is not to concede. The Bush administration has had a tendency to talk to others rather than with others. The worst example has been the demand that Iran must suspend its program for the enrichment of uranium before the US will sit down for direct discussions.
When it comes to US withdrawal from Iraq, Obama should take the stance that no US troops should stay longer than the host government wishes. The Bush administration, while intending to withdraw the bulk of US forces, has clearly wanted to retain some US troops in less visible bases. The aim seems to be more to protect US interests in Iraqi oil and to have springboards for possible actions against Iran than to protect Iraq.
For Obama, Iraq was the "dumb" war and Afganistan -- where 9/11 was planned -- was the place where all resources should have been projected. He wants a surge in Afganistan but there is a risk that the opportunity for success has already been lost and that American and other foreign troops are now seen more as foreign than as liberators. To abandon the country to renewed medieval style rule is not a possible American policy, but reconciliation with and involvement by parts of the Taliban might be a possibility. Iran and Russia could provide important help if the US can relax relations with these countries.
On Iran, precious time has been lost during which the country has moved closer to a capability to make bomb grade material. Rather than humiliating Iran by declaring -- as if to a child -- that "Iran should behave itself," the US should seek to identify and remove the incentives Iran may have to enrich uranium. To forego enrichment, Iran needs iron-clad assurances of supply of uranium fuel for its nuclear power program. Although Iran is no longer threatened by neighboring Iraq, it still feels threatened by the US. Washington should be ready to offer Iran security guarantees and diplomatic relations if the country abandons the option to make bomb grade material.
Obama has rightly endorsed the call by a large number of foreign policy experts led by George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn and William Perry for the US to take the initiative in nuclear disarmament. In 2007 the world spent $1.3 trillion (1 trillion) on military expenses -- about half of this expense came from the US budget. Taming the military-industrial complex is difficult in any country but starting a new era of international disarmament could help Mr. Obama to move huge sums from arms to health care, social welfare and education.
Early US ratification of the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty would send a dramatic signal that an era of global disarmament has begun. Preventing non-proliferation will be less difficult in a world in which those states possessing nuclear weapon states renounce the license they have given themselves up till now.
Joschka Fischer served as foreign minster under German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. He gave these remarks at a recent SPIEGEL event in Berlin.
I have no doubt that if the possibility exists, Iran will seek to become a nuclear power. They are already working on a research reactor, which has smaller dimensions than the plutonium path. But if they are allowed to, I have no doubt they will become a nuclear power. Still, the Iranians I have met are people who carefully consider things -- everyday and all the time. They conduct the cost-benefit analysis. And in this case, the political possibilities have not been exhausted. Iran fears its isolation in the region, and that's why I would start working on Syria, Tehran's last remaining ally. Syria is currently in the process of opening up. In that regard, Turkish diplomacy has accomplished a considerable amount, as well as French diplomatic efforts (despite early fits and starts). Unfortunately, our chancellor put the brakes on efforts by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who tried to actively engage with Syria during Germany's EU presidency (in 2007). I think that will have consequences in Tehran. At the same time, it has been my personal experience that they want to see if they can reach a deal with the USA. In that sense, Obama is totally right when he says that serious talks should commence (between the US and Iran) without any preconditions. That doesn't make anyone appear weak. To the contrary. I think a diplomatic solution is still possible and that will have to be a priority for him because without integrating Syria into the regional order and on the issue of Iran, I don't see any way of him being able to get out of Iraq without producing massive chaos.
Gert Weisskirchen, is the foreign policy spokesman for the Social Democrats in Germany's federal parliament.
It is now vitally important that Barack Obama, as president, meets with, listens to and works closely together with his allies. And there is a mountain of things that need his attention.
For example, it is important that, from the beginning, Obama addresses the problems in the Middle East. I would hope that he will not wait until the very end of his presidency to move forward as both Clinton and Bush did before him. The time to act is now.
The second priority is the relationship between the West and Russia. We have new presidents now in the US and in Russia. I believe there is a chance that Obama and Dmitry Medvedev could find a basis for understanding. Moscow is looking for rapprochement; it saw that it lost the media war in Georgia. On a more substantive level, there is a problem called Saakashvili. I am convinced that Washington cannot continue to support such an unreliable politician in Tbilisi.
In Iran, it looks like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could very well lose the next election. We have to make it clear to the electorate in Iran that they too could author a defining moment much as the US electorate has. We need to be careful not to be pushy; there is a risk of creating a kind of false solidarity in Iran against the West. We can't be confrontational. It is important we are clear about which lines cannot be crossed, but we have to show flexibility when it comes to the diplomatic instruments we use. We have to try and create a sense of optimism in Iran.
It will be very important for Barack Obama to develop clear priorities. He is faced with a lot of serious problems and he has to begin with those he can manage so that the beginning of his presidency can be a success.
Marianne Heuwagen is director of the Germany office of Human Rights Watch.
The next president will take office at a time when the credibility and effectiveness of the United States in combating human rights abuses abroad has been badly eroded by the Bush administration. There is an urgent need to remedy abuses on many fronts, four are crucial.
1. The new American government has to ensure that US counter-terrorism efforts comply with International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. As first steps, the next president should close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and prosecute those detainees implicated in terrorism in regular federal courts rather than before military commissions and send the others to their home countries or appropriate countries of resettlement, including the United States. The new government should issue an executive order to implement the bans on torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by requiring the CIA to abide by the interrogation rules that the US military has now adopted. Further, it should put an end to the CIA's secret detention program and stop renditions of terrorism suspects and others to countries where they are at risk of torture or ill-treatment.
2. The new government should make human rights a central pillar of its foreign policy.
3. The next administration should rejoin the international human rights community. The US government has remained an international outcast by failing to ratify important and long-standing human rights treaties and has repudiated, rather than worked with, allies to improve the UN Human Rights Council. As immediate steps, the next administration should seek a seat on the UN Human Rights Council and work to make it more effective. It should support investigations and prosecutions by the International Criminal Court (ICC), seek to repeal the American Service-Members' Protection Act of 2002 and begin steps to join the Rome Statute of the ICC. It should also bring US policy in line with the 2008 treaty to ban cluster munitions, urge the Senate to ratify both the Cluster Munitions Treaty and the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty as soon as possible. It should further urge the Senate to ratify key human rights treaties that are broadly accepted by the international community.
4. The new US government should abolish the federal death penalty, declare an immediate moratorium on federal executions, and direct the Attorney General not to seek the death penalty in federal prosecutions. It should mitigate some of the most inhumane aspects of current US immigration policy by encouraging Congress to amend US law requiring the immediate deportation of any immigrant with a criminal conviction by restoring individualized deportation hearings in which an immigration judge can weigh the offense's seriousness against the harm caused by deportation. It should further address the stark and persistent racial disparities plaguing the US criminal justice system.
Elmar Brok is a member of the European Parliament with the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and an expert on foreign policy.
I would like to see a US president who can look beyond the brim of his Stetson, making a true trans-Atlantic community possible, complete with joint strategic debates and decisions, as well as one who reestablishes the value-oriented credibility of the West.
- Part 1: What Europe Wants from Obama
- Part 2: 'We Need the US as a Strong Partner'
- Part 3: 'On Iran, Precious Time Has Been Lost'
- Part 4: 'We Need a Washington Less Ideological in Dealing with Russia and China'
- Part 5: 'The Time Has Come to Kick-Start Talks with Tehran'
- Part 6: 'Some Disappointment Is Inevitable'
- Part 7: 'By Voting for Obama, Americans Are not Voting to Become an EU Country'
- Part 8: 'Please Don't Bomb Iran'
- Part 9: 'A Measure of Moral Leadership Would Be to Join the ICC'
- Part 10: 'Obama -- Something that Is Still Impossible to Achieve in many European Countries'