Swedes Launch EU Presidency With Plea To Iran
By Ahto Lobjakas, RFE/RL
STOCKHOLM -- Sweden found its diplomatic prowess
tested on the very first morning of its European Union Presidency as relations
between Iran and the bloc appear to be heading into free fall.
EU diplomats say member states are calling for a temporary mass pullout of the
bloc's ambassadors from Tehran in protest over the arrests of nine of the
British Embassy's Iranian staff on charges of sedition last week.
Five of the nine have been freed, but the four remaining prisoners stand accused
of inciting some of the mass protests which followed Mahmud Ahmadinejad's
disputed victory in the June 12 presidential elections.
Fredrik Reinfeldt, the Swedish prime minister, who will spearhead the EU's
diplomatic efforts on the international stage for the next half-year, today
called the Iranian accusations "ungrounded and incorrect." He warned Tehran not
to "polarize" itself from the rest of the world.
"We hope that the Iranian leadership will be able to see what is happening in
Iran as a cry for more freedom and more reforms -- and not something that will
become grounds for a conflict between Iran and the world outside it," he said.
The Swedish premier did not directly comment on suggestions that the EU may be
considering withdrawing its ambassadors from Tehran. He said the EU will "follow
developments closely" and look for a "balanced" response. Reinfeldt also said it
is crucial the EU stand united on the issue.
Expect The Unexpected
The EU's freedom to maneuver will be hampered by the bloc's wish to retain
workable channels of communication to the Iranian regime in a bid to ensure that
the dispute over the country's nuclear program can be resolved through
Swedish officials in Stockholm stress the country is prepared to expect the
unexpected on the world stage during its six-month presidency. A senior diplomat
downplayed suggestions, however, that the country might be faced with a repeat
Russian invasion of Georgia later this summer.
An EU troika -- comprising Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, the EU foreign
policy chief Javier Solana, and the external relations commissioner, Benita
Ferrero-Waldner -- will head to the South Caucasus on July 14.
Privately, Swedish officials admit Russia could prove a tough nut to crack for
the relatively small Scandinavian country in its role as EU chair -- and not
only with regard to Georgia.
There are increasing fears in Brussels that Russia is preparing for another gas
spat with Ukraine, which could have dire consequences for nearly half of the EU
member states, which are heavily dependent on Russian natural gas.
Officials in Stockholm say Russia is liable to play the divide-and-conquer card
in any crisis situation and attempt to use bilateral channels of communication
with Berlin, Paris, and other EU capitals to undermine Swedish efforts to
organize a joint EU response.
A senior Swedish figure told RFE/RL that Foreign Minister Carl Bildt's evocation
of the situation in the 1930s in the wake of the Russian invasion of Georgia in
August 2008 was not a "good" idea and could compromise Sweden's standing as a
mediator in a crisis.
Bildt had compared Russia's invasion as similar to that of Adolf Hitler, who
used the presence of large German minorities in Poland and Czechoslovakia as a
pretext for entering those countries.
Focus On Climate Change
Outlining the Swedish Presidency's priorities today, Prime Minister Reinfeldt
reiterated they will be topped by the fight against climate change.
"Our generation's perhaps most important and greatest challenge [is] to manage
climate change. There is no time to lose," he said. "We are going to do
everything within our powers to get a consensus on a global climate accord in
Copenhagen in December."
The other major Swedish concern will be the ongoing financial crisis.
The president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, said today the EU
will attempt to seize the opportunity to forge a greener and low-carbon "new
economy" as the economic downturn begins to recover.
Sweden's tasks will be complicated by the institutional interregnum currently
holding sway in the EU. Barroso himself, although nominated for a second term by
EU leaders last month, faces a confirmation vote in the European Parliament on
July 15 whose result remains unpredictable.
The outcome of a repeat Irish referendum on the EU's constitutional Lisbon
Treaty in October will be crucial in determining the EU's course -- and resolve
on the global stage -- for years to come.
Reinfeldt warned the bloc's continued preoccupation with "inward-looking"
internal matters could jeopardize its global leadership role, above all in
counteracting climate change.
The Swedish Presidency will also inherit a largely moribund enlargement process,
with candidate countries Croatia, Turkey, and Macedonia finding their bids to
join the EU hamstrung by bilateral spats with a number of existing EU member
Reinfeldt indicated other challenges will force the Swedish EU Presidency to put
the bloc's Eastern Partnership initiative on the back burner for the coming
months. No new major initiatives or meetings are foreseen for the next six
RFE/RL correspondent Ahto Lobjakas is among a group of Brussels-based
correspondents flown to Stockholm by the Swedish government for the occasion of
the start of its EU Presidency.
Copyright (c) 2009 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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