Friday, March 11, 2005
U.S., EU Launch Joint Strategy on IranBy Paul Taylor
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The United States and Europe launched a coordinated drive on Friday to press Iran (news - web sites) to abandon its most sensitive nuclear activity, which experts say could enable it to make the bomb.
Washington was set to announce it would offer Iran economic incentives -- a start to World Trade Organization (news - web sites) membership talks and access to civil aircraft and spare parts -- in a major policy shift requested by the Europeans.
In return, Britain, France and Germany said they would haul Tehran before the U.N. Security Council if it resumed uranium enrichment and nuclear reprocessing activities.
The joint strategy was a first fruit of President Bush (news - web sites)'s trip to Europe last month and appeared to bridge, at least for now, years of transatlantic argument over whether to engage or isolate the Islamic republic.
The three European heavyweights told EU partners in a letter that "progress is not as fast as we would wish" in talks they began last December to persuade Tehran to end its most sensitive nuclear work in return for economic and political benefits.
The United States accuses Iran of secretly trying to develop nuclear arms. Tehran says its program, long concealed from the U.N. nuclear watchdog, is purely for civilian energy purposes.
But chief Iranian negotiator Hassan Rohani insisted in an interview published on Friday that Iran would not give in to Western demands that it scrap efforts to complete the fuel cycle, which could help it make bombs.
The EU3 said that if Iran continued its suspension of all enrichment and reprocessing activities and cooperated fully with the U.N.'s Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, they believed the issue could be resolved at that level.
"If on the other hand, despite our efforts Iran does not do so, then as has been implicit in the agreements reached with Iran and well understood by all concerned, we shall have no choice but to support referring Iran's nuclear program to the U.N. Security Council," the letter obtained by Reuters said.
Iran threatened last week to resume uranium enrichment and scrap the talks if it was taken to the Security Council, an attitude which Western diplomats said appeared to be a bluff to assuage intense national pride on the nuclear issue.
The EU3 letter made no mention of the possibility of U.N. sanctions against Tehran. Diplomats said Washington had pressed for such a reference but the EU3 had replied that it would be up to the Security Council to decide what action to take.
"We are united in our determination that Iran should not acquire a nuclear weapons capability," the three countries said.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (news - web sites) was to announce the new policy approach in a statement from which diplomats said the Europeans had persuaded her to omit past American talk of demanding freedom for Iran or standing with the Iranian people.
"We talked through in great detail the Iran issue with the Europeans. They are very firm how to ensure Iran's compliance, so we're preparing to take some steps to support them," Rice told Reuters on Thursday.
DIALOGUE WAY FORWARD
The EU3 letter gave a broad outline of the talks in working groups on nuclear issues, political and security matters and technology and economic cooperation, but contained no surprises.
As expected, it said the nuclear part was the toughest, since "both sides have strongly held positions on this difficult issue, which remains at the core of the negotiations, and discussions continue."
The letter confirmed that the EU3 had offered to "back the modernization of Iranian civil aviation" -- an apparent reference to plans to sell Tehran Airbus planes and spare parts with U.S. blessing.
In addition, diplomats said the Bush administration would allow Boeing Corp. to sell spare parts for Iran's aging fleet much of which pre-dates the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Diplomats said tentative plans for EU3 foreign ministers to meet Rohani next week for an agreed three-month review of the talks was postponed but they could meet in Paris on March 22.
The letter referred to EU concerns about Iran's record on democracy, human rights and terrorism, and its support for groups engaged in violence and efforts to derail the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
"Despite all these difficult issues, we believe the best way forward is through dialogue and negotiation, building on respect for the agreements reached so far," it said.