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Europe’s top diplomat loves to hug thugs.

If Federica Mogherini didn’t exist, the world’s autocrats would be trying to invent her. As the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs, she’s a tireless advocate for engaging rogue states. Few diplomats, though, have pursued this kind of engagement with such moralizing puffery. In Mogherini’s world, diplomacy with dictators shouldn’t aim to transition these...
Time: 06:01     Date: 11.01.2018
Last US News - Opinion: Europe’s top diplomat loves to hug thugs. NY Post 24 - US News

Just consider her trip last week to Cuba. Did Mogherini use her visit to call attention to the struggle of human-rights activists or to comfort the families of political prisoners? No, Mogherini was in Cuba to reassure a regime that Europe will not go along with America’s trade embargo.

“I know very well that right now some are trying to isolate Cuba. We Europeans want to show, on the contrary, that we are closer to you than ever,” she said in a speech at Cuba’s San Geronimo College. Next month, Cuba’s minister for economic development will participate in a dialogue in Brussels on improving Europe’s ties to the island.

While Mogherini found her voice in Havana about Cuba’s “isolation,” she was mute on the popular uprising in Iran. She waited six days to say anything about the demonstrations. When she finally did, it was a mix of ingratiation and neutrality. “In the spirit of openness and respect that is at the root of our relationship,” she said, “we expect all concerned to refrain from violence and to guarantee freedom of expression.”

It’s as if Mogherini believes that Iranian demonstrators are arresting and silencing members of the state Basij militia, and not the other way around.

All of this is part of a pattern for Mogherini. Most strategists believe diplomacy is a tool for achieving a specific outcome in foreign relations. The only outcome Mogherini seems to seek is preservation of the status quo. That’s fine in moments of tranquility and prosperity, not a moment when authoritarians are on the march in Europe and Asia.

When the US was urging allies to close embassies to North Korea after a series of harrowing missile and nuclear tests last fall, Mogherini gave a speech to the European Parliament emphasizing Europe’s goal of opening “credible diplomatic channels” to the Hermit Kingdom.

Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the former president of Estonia, pointed to a public conversation from 2014 to illustrate the Mogherini method. When she was foreign minister of Italy, Ilves was on a panel at the Brussels Forum with her right after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine. Ilves, according to a video of the forum, made the point that Russia’s actions violated the UN charter and an agreement Ukraine had made with the US, Russia and the United Kingdom.

He complained about the relatively anemic response from the US and its allies to impose a round of sanctions and ban the travel of a group of senior Russian officials. Mogherini’s response was to ask: “So let’s bomb Russia? What is the solution then?”

As Suzanne Maloney, an Iran expert at the Brookings Institution, told me: “This is the European moment on Iran.” Europe’s response to the regime’s violent suppression of protests after the stolen election of 2009 was firm. The EU should send the same message today.

So far, Mogherini and the Europeans have delivered the opposite message. On Monday, the high representative invited Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, to Brussels next week for more discussions on the Iran nuclear deal. Alireza Nader, an Iran expert at the RAND Corporation, told me this week that Mogherini’s statement on Iran was “saying both sides are equal, when it’s Iranian security forces that are shooting and killing people.”

Europe can and should do better. The position of high representative for foreign policy has not been filled with diplomatic all-stars. But past foreign-policy chiefs have at least tried to introduce Western values into European foreign policy.

In Mogherini, Europe has a chief diplomat who doesn’t want to offend the envoys of tyrants. She seeks to build partnerships with them for the cause of peace. In another era, this supine credulity had a name: Appeasement.

© 2018, Bloomberg View

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