EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton

Iran’s announcement today that it is a nuclear state makes the appointment of the spectacularly inexperienced Catherine Ashton as EU Foreign Minister even more ridiculous.

Her speech at the Munich Security Conference last weekend was a snoozer of epic proportions – even by Brussels standards. However, it was her statements on Iran which beggar belief. At exactly the time when everyone’s patience has finally run out with Iran, Mrs. Ashton decides, not to side with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in calling for sanctions forthwith, but instead, publicly sides with the Chinese Foreign Minister, stating: “[the] possibilities of dialogue are not exhausted.” She went on to make her position very clear: let’s not be hasty in discussing sanctions. It’s a shame that she didn’t let the State Department know, since they insisted the possibility of sanctions would be discussed within “a few days.”

Those remarks came just before Iran’s nuclear proclamation, and news that continues its crackdown on e-mail and social media, such as Gmail and Twitter. With Iran’s threat to wipe Israel “off the face of the earth,” Europe and Washington should cooperate to impose targeted and heavy sanctions immediately — regardless of U.N. Security Council backing or the lack thereof. It also can’t afford to rule other options out, including a last-resort use of force against Iran.

After revelations that Ashton returns to London every Friday for intense coaching from the foreign office to catch up on everything she doesn’t know about foreign policy, it’s clear that she now needs a new speechwriter too.

Adding insult to injury, Mrs. Ashton has taken over from Javier Solana as head of the EU3+3 (the six powers involved in talks with Iran). With no credibility and negligible experience on the world stage, Mrs. Ashton should do the honorable thing and hand chairmanship of the group over to her British or American colleagues.

The EU has long been out of its depth in dealing with Iran, and consistently underestimated their commitment to pursuing the illicit development of nuclear weapons. EU negotiations have allowed Iran to play for time and the ostrich-like Mrs. Ashton continues to stick her head in the sand, saying she doesn’t understand why Iran continues to break the rules. The time for half-measures and engagement strategies is over. Now is the time for action.