An Agenda for Europe in the Middle East
March 17, 2006

Eric Rouleau, Former French Ambassador to Turkey and Tunisia; Editorial Writer and Special Correspondent, Le Monde; former Woodrow Wilson Center Guest Scholar

Eric Rouleau, long-time Middle East correspondent and columnist for Le Monde and subsequently Ambassador-at-Large to the Arab world and Ambassador to Tunisia and to Turkey, spoke on March 17, 2006 on "An Agenda for Europe in the Middle East." He began by pointing out that in most of their objectives the United States and Europe share a common agenda, yet in many ways their approaches and policies on reaching these objectives are quite different. He pointed out that European preferences on the Middle East can be explained largely by three factors: 1) Europe's close geographic proximity to the Middle East with the extensive immigration, the history of colonialism, and the economic and petroleum ties that exist; 2) Europe is not a global power like the United States, but is rather a business-first power which does not put geostrategic considerations before business; and 3) Europe in its international relations prefers diplomacy over force and in its diplomacy chooses multilateral approaches with an emphasis on international law.

Due to limitations of time, Rouleau said it was not possible to look at a full agenda for Europe in the Middle East so that he would concentrate on three issues. The most fundamental and longstanding is the Arab-Israeli conflict. For him and for many Europeans the fundamental point about this conflict is that Israeli policy directly flouts international law and numerous United Nations resolutions. He said the peace process is a misnomer because both Israel and the United States have not fully pursued peace and the United States has not performed as an honest broker but has always taken Israel's side in critical disputes. He would like to see a UN-sponsored peace conference for the Middle East based on Resolution 242 replace the so-called peace process and its current road map. He feels that the situation is now at a very delicate point, and the Islamic world as well as much of Europe views the preconditions set for Hamas by European governments and the United States as another case of a double standard which is not applied, for example, to Israeli targeted assassinations and continued expansion of settlements. He concluded his remarks on the Arab-Israeli conflict by saying that America should remember that this conflict is a central cause of concern and anger throughout the Arab world, and, in order to improve the standing of the United States among Arab political and intellectual elites, greater effort needed to be made to resolve these issues.

Turning to the conflict in Iraq, he again found this situation to be very critical and expressed the concern that the insecurity could result, if it got further out of hand, in a break-up of Iraq, and spread to the six neighboring countries, leading to a very serious regional crisis. He believes it will take years before security can be established in Iraq, and many in Europe feel that the current occupation by coalition forces is fueling the insurgency and adding to its recruits and to its intensity. He is afraid the United States is heading toward a strategic disaster in Iraq and would like to see an international conference call to establish peace and provide a UN force to help maintain security within Iraq.

Looking finally at the Iranian nuclear crisis, he found the issues much less threatening than the rhetoric from both sides suggests. He asserted that there is no evidence that Iran has engaged in military nuclear activities or has violated the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, and citing Mohamed ElBaradei, Secretary General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, he asked for both sides to adopt a cool-headed approach to the issues. Rouleau commented that the United States and the EU-three action in transferring the Iran file to the United Nations Security Council has a disturbingly similar parallel to the road to war in Iraq. He concluded by expressing the hope that the Europeans could persuade the United States to join the EU-three in direct negotiations with Iran and pointed out that there is plenty of time to negotiate. His broad hope, Rouleau declared, is for Europe to develop its cohesion and foreign policy capacity to the point where it could eventually serve as a counterweight to unchecked United States power.