New York Times: The United States reached an informal agreement Friday to let Britain, France and Germany offer a deal to Iran next week in which Tehran would immediately suspend its nuclear fuel enrichment program in return for a discussion on future economic benefits and other incentives, European diplomats said.
New York Times

By Steven R. Weisman

WASHINGTON - The United States reached an informal agreement Friday to let Britain, France and Germany offer a deal to Iran next week in which Tehran would immediately suspend its nuclear fuel enrichment program in return for a discussion on future economic benefits and other incentives, European diplomats said.

The diplomats said that the agreement came at an unusual meeting of top American, European, Russian and Japanese envoys that marked the first time that so many countries' representatives had come together for the express purpose of discussing how to deal with what many experts say is Iran's accelerating nuclear arms program.

The Bush administration has been careful to say that it is not formally endorsing a new attempt by its European allies to provide incentives to Iran, and indeed officials have also said they are skeptical that any such offer will work.

Instead, the United States favors taking up Iran's program at the United Nations Security Council, where penalties, such as a possible oil embargo, would be discussed.

But European envoys familiar with the meeting on Friday, involving the deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, and John Bolton, the under secretary of state for arms control and international security, said that the United States did not discourage Britain, France and Germany from making the latest offer to Iran.

"They didn't jump on the train physically," said a European official, describing the American attitude, adding: "There was nobody who told us, don't go ahead."

As a result, a meeting is expected as early as Thursday, perhaps in Vienna, the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The meeting featured the circulation of a four-page paper prepared by leaders of the European Union outlining an effort to engage Iran. European diplomats said the paper, prepared by Britain, France and Germany, was also endorsed by the entire EU, though not formally by all 25 countries.

According to officials familiar with the paper, it calls for "a two-track approach" of engagement and confrontation. If the engagement does not work, then the paper proposes that the countries of the world mount a program of pressure on Iran by going to the UN Security Council to discuss sanctions.

The approach of engagement has a short-term and a long-term component, the diplomats said.

In the short term, it calls for Iran to suspend enrichment of its uranium, which it promised to do last year before backing off of in protest over more demands that it disclose its nuclear activities to the agency.

The suspension of uranium enrichment would have to be "sustained," a European official said - meaning, in effect, permanent, although the word "permanent" is avoided because a permanent arrangement for Iran to drop its nuclear weapons ambitions would be worked out in the long term.

The paper also proposes that in the long term other issues will be addressed, first by the Europeans and eventually by the United States. These would involve human rights in Iran, a discussion on terrorism and Iran's suspected support of terrorist groups, economic ties, political and security relationships in the Middle East, including a role in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

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