Thursday, May 26, 2005


W.T.O. Agrees to Entry Talks With Iran as U.S. Drops Veto

May 26, 2005
Filed at 7:26 a.m. ET

GENEVA (Reuters) - The World Trade Organizationagreed on Thursday to start membership negotiations with Iran after the United States dropped a long-standing veto.

The U.S. decision appeared to be the first tangible reward for Iran after it agreed on Wednesday to maintain its suspension of all nuclear activities in a deal with the European Union.

Mohammad Reza Alborzi, Iran's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, welcomed the breakthrough at WTO's General Council, whose 148 member states take decisions by consensus.

``I take note that a decision that has long been overdue has been now established,'' Alborzi said in remarks to the closed-door meeting.

Iran applied to join the WTO in September 1996 and its candidacy was first considered in May 2001. But Washington had blocked agreement ever since at 22 General Council meetings.

``Today this house with this decision has done service to itself by correcting a wrong,'' Alborzi said in his statement, which was given to journalists.

Carlo Trojan, the EU's trade ambassador, welcomed the decision as ``positive news.'' Joseph Akerman, a trade envoy from member Israel, said if Iran fulfils the basic principles of the WTO, ``then they are welcome like any other country.''

Linnet Deily, U.S. ambassador to the WTO, did not take the floor at the WTO talks, according to diplomats.


The United States accuses Tehran of wanting to build nuclear weapons and of supporting terrorism. Iran denies the charges.

But in a policy shift last March designed to bolster EU-Tehran negotiations, the United States offered Iran economic incentives to abandon its suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons, including letting WTO accession talks start.

But that U.S. commitment was put at risk when Iran recently declared its intent to resume sensitive nuclear activities. An imminent crisis was averted on Wednesday when the so-called ``EU3'' -- Britain, France and Germany -- agreed with Iran on a two-month breathing space for a deal.

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Hassan Rohani told Iranian state television that the EU deal could still unravel if the Tehran government objected to the terms.

Iran has repeatedly said there are no incentives the West can offer that would persuade it to give up a nuclear program it insists will only produce electricity, and not weapons.

But the green light to talks from the WTO, which sets the rules for world trade, does not mean that Iran, the world's fourth largest oil exporter, will be joining soon.

Accession talks can take years, with Russia still negotiating its entry after a decade of discussions.

In all, 30 countries including Iran and Sao Tome and Principe, whose request was also approved on Thursday, are now in or about to start negotiations on terms of WTO accession. These include Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil producer.

Iran would have to accept much more openness in its trading system and would face tough questions about the subsidised energy supplies enjoyed by its domestic producers, experts say.

Syria, which applied in 2001, has yet to have its request taken up formally by the global trade watchdog amid continuing U.S. opposition, trade sources said.

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