U.S. not blocking Iran’s WTO application

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Reuters: The United States will not block Iran’s application to join the World Trade Organization when the issue comes before the WTO General Council on Thursday, as part of a nuclear-related deal between Tehran and key European states, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday. Reuters

WASHINGTON – The United States will not block Iran’s application to join the World Trade Organization when the issue comes before the WTO General Council on Thursday, as part of a nuclear-related deal between Tehran and key European states, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday.

“We’re not going to block it, in support of the diplomacy of our European friends … That is the plan,” the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The United States, in a policy shift last March designed to bolster EU-Tehran negotiations, offered Iran economic incentives to abandon its suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons, including a decision to allow Iran to begin talks to join the WTO.

But that U.S. commitment was put at risk when Iran recently declared its intent to resume sensitive nuclear activities. However, 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.

Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Peter Allgeier told Reuters on Tuesday that a U.S. decision on Iran’s WTO application was up in the air, despite Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s March announcement that the Bush administration would let the WTO application proceed.

But the senior U.S. official who spoke anonymously said that while blocking the application “would have been more of an option” if Iran proceeded with uranium enrichment-related activities, the administration now planned to stay united with its European allies.

“In the European view, Iran continues to suspend its nuclear activities. They believe that a U.S. decision to withhold its veto would help their diplomacy,” the official said.

The United States has long blocked Iran’s bid to become a WTO member, including most recently in December.

The two countries have not had diplomatic relations since the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by Islamic fundamentalist students who held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.

President Bush once called Iran part of an “axis of evil” along with North Korea and prewar Iraq.

Washington has imposed extensive sanctions against Iran, which it has accused of wanting to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran insists its nuclear program is for producing nuclear energy.

The WTO General Council meeting in Geneva on Thursday is the first opportunity the United States and the other 147 WTO members will have to review Iran’s application since Washington shifted its policy. The EU3 had argued it needed incentives from the United States to give its negotiations with Iran more weight.

The EU3 has warned Iran that resuming any activities related to uranium enrichment — a process of purifying fuel for nuclear power plants or weapons — would cause them to refer the case to the United Nations Security Council, which could impose international sanctions.