Reuters: Three European Union powers plan to offer Iran a limited package of nuclear, economic and political incentives next week to give up suspect nuclear work amid growing pessimism that Tehran’s leaders will take the bait. Diplomats from Britain, France and Germany are due to hand over the proposals to the Iranian government after new hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad takes office next Wednesday, but signs are growing that they will get a dismissive reception. Reuters
By Paul Taylor, European Affairs Editor
BRUSSELS – Three European Union powers plan to offer Iran a limited package of nuclear, economic and political incentives next week to give up suspect nuclear work amid growing pessimism that Tehran’s leaders will take the bait.
Diplomats from Britain, France and Germany are due to hand over the proposals to the Iranian government after new hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad takes office next Wednesday, but signs are growing that they will get a dismissive reception.
Outgoing President Mohammad Khatami said on Wednesday that Iran would resume some work on its nuclear fuel cycle, which the West suspects is part of a clandestine effort to produce a bomb, regardless of what the so-called EU3 group offers.
“Our deadline for suspending nuclear work was the EU proposal. We will wait until the first days of August but will restart activities right afterwards,” Khatami told reporters.
EU diplomats said the European offer was predicated on Iran agreeing to maintain indefinitely its suspension of uranium enrichment, nuclear fuel reprocessing and related activities.
Iran regards nuclear fuel cycle activities as a right under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, meant to prevent the spread of atomic weapons while allowing civilian nuclear work, and wants to be allowed to keep at least a pilot enrichment programme.
The EU3 remain adamant, with strong U.S. backing, that they will agree to no enrichment or reprocessing activity.
EU and Iranian officials say nuclear policy is under the control of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, so the change of president from a moderate reformist to an Islamic ultra-conservative may alter the tone but not the substance.
The EU3 have threatened to report Iran to the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions if it ends its voluntary suspension of enrichment-related activity.
Under the package, the EU would offer a guaranteed supply of fuel for Iran’s civilian reactors, provided they were under full supervision of the U.N. nuclear watchdog and spent fuel was returned in full to the supplier, the diplomats said.
In addition, the EU3 would agree in principle to European companies building a nuclear power station in Iran besides the Bushehr reactor being completed by Russia, provided Tehran ratified a protocol allowing intrusive spot inspections and complied fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The “comprehensive package” will include a political and security dimension and the promise of greater trade and economic cooperation, on which talks conducted by the executive European Commission have been making good progress. The EU3 are also dangling the prospect of civilian aircraft sales.
Politically, the EU would offer support for security cooperation in the Gulf region and a regular political dialogue on issues such as energy security, stabilising Iraq and Afghanistan, and fighting terrorism and drugs trafficking.
None of this is very new or goes much beyond what the EU3 have been discussing with Iran since last December.
One EU official involved said the package would be “a lot of gift-wrapping around a pretty empty box”, since the EU could not commit commercial European companies to building power stations in Iran, especially if the United States made its opposition clear.
The Bush administration made two gestures to support the EU effort in March. It stopped blocking Iran’s application to start talks to join the World Trade Organisation and agreed to consider selling civilian aircraft spare parts. However, Washington is not considering any more carrots now, U.S. officials say.
The limited nature of the European incentives on offer reflected the low level of international confidence in Iran’s nuclear intentions, a senior EU diplomat said.
“Is it going to work? I would bet ‘No’,” he said. “But it is worth trying, and it gives the Iranians a clear choice.”
Tehran would have to choose between growing international isolation if it resumed enrichment and the prospect of increasing cooperation with Europe and integration into the global economy if it gave up sensitive nuclear work.
“This is like an old game of chicken. Who will swerve first,” a senior U.S. official said. “I think what Iran is doing and what the West is doing is just delaying what may be an inevitability, but delay is not such a small thing.”
(Additional reporting by Madeline Chambers in London and Carol Giacomo in Washington)