After the surprise reports about an assassination plot against the Saudi ambassador to Washington, the United States government has called for international measures against Iran. "We're in the process of uniting world public opinion, continuing to isolate and condemn (Iran's) behavior," Vice President Joe Biden told ABC News on Wednesday.
In Germany, politicians are looking to the developments with great concern. For the time being, though, any serious debate over sharpened sanctions could bring discomfort -- at least as long as Washington is not able to back up its allegation that senior Iranian leadership had also been informed of the attack plans with solid evidence. Since Wednesday, doubts have even circulated about this theory within the US government itself.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been traveling in Vietnam and Mongolia, has not yet made any public statements about the alleged incident in Washington. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has said only that he is deeply concerned about the possible Iranian developments and has called for the best-possible clarification of the alleged assassination plans.
'We Are Talking Closely with Our Allies'
When asked to address the issue of new sanctions, a spokeswoman at Westerwelle's Foreign Ministry, said, tight-lipped, "We are talking closely with our allies."
Still, there is widespread sympathy in Berlin political circles for a firmer approach to Tehran.
Ruprecht Polenz, chairman of the German parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee and a member of Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats, said Iran has the "burden of proof" in the current showdown. "We shouldn't act as if this assassination plot is just some sort of American fantasy," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "If Iran really is sponsoring terrorism of this kind, then it's a case for the United Nations Security Council."
The Americans have argued for years in favor of heavy sanctions against Iran at the UN. The US has accused Iran of secretly pursuing nuclear weapons and violating international agreements on nonproliferation. Washington has called for tough international measures that would inflict real economic pain. That could include a concerted boycott, for example, of Iranian oil, in addition to existing boycotts on weapons sales and nuclear-related technology transfers.
But Russia and China consistently block sharp sanctions in the Security Council. And since details about the plot are far from clear , the US may not find immediate broad support for punishing Tehran.
Nevertheless, Polenz sees room for milder international efforts below the Security Council level. He says Berlin would be ready to help. "There's more we can do at the level of travel restrictions. And if we notice that Iranian Embassy employees are busy as intelligence agents more than diplomats, then we should send them home," he says. Working in concert with a bloc of nations, he added, would be vital.
Polenz's colleagues among the left-leaning Social Democratic Party (SPD) are more cautious. "Some doubts have been expressed in Washington about the Tehran government's actual involvement," said Gernot Erler, an SPD lawmaker in parliament who specializes in foreign affairs. "I'd suggest we take those seriously." An escalation with Iran is hardly in the interest of the international community, he argued, because it could torpedo peace efforts like this week's prisoner exchange between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. Erler said it was "absolutely clear" that a confrontation would "enormously complicate" the activities of the Middle East quartet seeking to broker a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians.