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Moves on the Iranian chessboard

Spain supports the EU's sanctions on Tehran to force negotiations on its nuclear program

In Brussels on Monday, Spanish diplomacy faced one of its first important decisions, concerning the approval of new sanctions against Iran to force it to resume negotiations on its nuclear program. Though Iranian crude represents some 20 percent of the total imported by Spain, the government has decided to join the agreement reached among the 27 states.

The new sanctions block the signing of new supply contracts with Iran, and set July of this year as a deadline for putting an end to existing ones. Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo stated that Spanish companies have alternatives to the crude oil currently bought from Iran.

The evolution of the international context made it difficult for Spain, alone or in the company of others, to shoulder the responsibility of blocking this EU initiative, which is backed chiefly by London, Paris and Berlin. The United States recently approved a package of sanctions, the effects of which would be diluted were the EU nations to drag their feet in doing the same, thus placing themselves, in terms of actions if not words, in a position equivalent to that of China and Russia. With the decision reached in Brussels, the Union and its members have unequivocally taken sides in the confrontation with Iran.

A different question is whether or not the Iranian regime will return to the negotiation table under the pressure of the newly approved sanctions. Though exports of petroleum to the European Union represent a quarter of its foreign income, the Iranian regime's isolation is not so complete that it cannot find new customers. But an underlying political reason also exists: the broad internal consensus on the ongoing development of a national nuclear program. According to Tehran's statements, its activities still come under the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The problem is that international supervisors cannot confirm or deny this.

The Iranian government has reasons to believe that it has the initiative in this confrontation, and that the situation is developing in a manner beneficial to its interests. From the military threat implied in the view of Iran as part of the "axis of evil," the US has moved onto sanctions, which Tehran interprets as a clear climb down in risk. But Israel's immovable strategy of ensuring that it keeps its own nuclear monopoly in the region implies the unilateral drawing of a line that, if crossed by Iran, might upset all calculations. The suspicious death of an Iranian nuclear scientist, the fifth since 2007, as well as the progressive hardening of Israeli statements against the regime of the ayatollahs, suggests this limit may soon be reached.

With its support for the sanctions, Spain becomes more involved in the chess game surrounding the Iranian nuclear program. It could not fail to do so, nor could it adopt a position that would stand in the way of the European agreement. What is now urgently needed is to find a way out of this potentially far-reaching confrontation.

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