New York Times: The United States, Russia, China and three leading nations of Europe announced an agreement Thursday on a package of incentives intended to resolve the nuclear crisis with Iran, shelving any punitive action by the Security Council until Iran has time to respond to the proposals. The New York Times
By THOM SHANKER and ELAINE SCIOLINO
VIENNA, June 1 The United States, Russia, China and three leading nations of Europe announced an agreement Thursday on a package of incentives intended to resolve the nuclear crisis with Iran, shelving any punitive action by the Security Council until Iran has time to respond to the proposals.
The initiative is aimed at encouraging Iran to return to a freeze of its nuclear activities, including turning off the fast-spinning centrifuge machines that produce enriched uranium.
The specifics of the proposals were not revealed on Thursday. But they are expected to be presented to Iran in coming days by a delegation headed by Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief. The government in Tehran would then be given weeks but not months to respond, American and European officials said.
Britain’s new foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, read a statement on behalf of the six countries, saying: “We have agreed on a set of far-reaching proposals as a basis for discussions with Iran. We believe they offer Iran the chance to reach a negotiated agreement based on cooperation.”
She said the nations represented at the talks “are prepared to resume negotiations should Iran resume suspension of all enrichment related and reprocessing activities” as required by the International Atomic Energy Agency. “And we would also suspend action in the Security Council,” she added.
Ms. Beckett warned that “further steps would have to be taken in the Security Council” if Iran did not comply. But the statement carefully avoided any mention of sanctions or other specific, punitive measures, and Ms. Beckett took no questions.
The word “sanctions” was not uttered in the public dialogue on Thursday, perhaps in an effort to avoid giving Iran an obvious target for early objections. But should Iran reject the incentives, differences are likely to re-emerge among the six nations as they consider specific punishments in the Security Council.
Two officials who attended the talks on Thursday described the lengthy and, at times, tense negotiations.
The Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, insisted that any consideration of punitive action in the Security Council be frozen until Iran had a chance to respond to the current offer, said one senior European official who, like some others, spoke on the condition of anonymity under normal diplomatic rules.
“The Security Council has stopped,” this official said. “If we fail, we will come back to the Security Council, but the process is now stalled until we see the reaction of Iran. They asked for it to be frozen, and they got it.”
A resolution is currently before the United Nations Security Council under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, which invokes the Council’s power to demand compliance of member countries and threaten punishment if they refuse.
Another senior European official expressed fears that the process could allow Iran time to “string this along for a very long time.”
Pressed on whether the six nations had reached full consensus on Thursday, R. Nicholas Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, expressed broad satisfaction. “We are very satisfied by the results of today’s meetings here in Vienna,” he said. “We consider them a step forward in our quest to deny Iran a nuclear weapons capability.”
The emphasis of the agreement on Thursday was less on how to punish Iran, than on how to reward it for agreeing to freeze its enrichment-related activities. There had been optimistic predictions in recent days, particularly by the Bush administration, that the foreign ministers of the countries meeting Thursday the five permanent Security Council powers, plus Germany could agree on a complicated formula that would persuade Iran to stop making enriched uranium.
On Wednesday, before her departure from Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, “We are agreed with our European partners on the essential elements of a package containing both benefits, if Iran makes the right choice and costs if it does not.”
The afternoon talks extended into dinner, only a day after the Bush administration reversed course and offered to sit down at the same negotiating table with Iran if Iran fully suspended its uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities.
Iran has said it has no intention of stopping these activities. On Thursday, Iranian officials embraced the idea of talking to the United States, but rejected preconditions for talks.
“We will not negotiate over our nation’s natural nuclear rights but we are ready to hold fair and unbiased dialogue and negotiation over mutual concerns within the context of a defined framework,” said Iran’s foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, the official Iranian news agency reported.
His spokesman, Hamid Reza Asefi, said later, “There is no obstacle to negotiating with the United States on an equal footing, with respect and without preconditions, since what is important for us is to secure our nuclear rights.”
In Washington on Thursday, President Bush seemed to describe the American offer of direct talks with Iran as much as a threat as opportunity. “The choice is up to the Iranians whether or not they’re going to listen to the world demand, and if they do, we’ve got something to talk to them about,” Mr. Bush told reporters after a cabinet meeting.
Mr. Bush, who spoke by phone with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Wednesday and President Hu Jintao of China on Thursday, also sidestepped a question on whether Russia and China had come on board with the disputed package.
Asked about Mr. Mottaki’s remarks suggesting that the suspension of Iran’s nuclear activities was nonnegotiable, Mr. Bush said: “We’ll see whether or not that is the firm position of their government. If that’s what they decide to do, then the next step, of course, will be to for our coalition partners to go to the United Nations Security Council.”
Neither Mr. Mottaki nor Mr. Asefi has the authority to make policy. Still, their statements are important because they reflect efforts by Iran, like the United States, to inch away from old fixed positions that the other side is not worth dealing with.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, long rejected contacts with the United States, branding those who seek reconciliation “simpletons and traitors.” But recently he has approved the idea of talking to Washington about Iraq, if there was respect for mutual interests.
Behind the scenes, Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, urged Iran to embrace the American offer. In a telephone conversation Wednesday evening with Ali Larijani, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Dr. ElBaradei described the overture as “very significant” and told Iran “to seize the opportunity of talking to Washington,” an agency spokeswoman, Melissa Fleming, said.
Although all countries agreed to the initiative, the major gap was one that has been there since the beginning: the insistence by the United States and the Europeans that Iran must be punished by the Security Council if it does not change its behavior, and the counterargument by Russia and China that the best way to win concessions at least at this point is through engagement.
Although the Europeans had argued against holding such a high-level, high-profile meeting without closing the gaps in lower-level negotiating and guaranteeing success, the United States insisted that the meeting was important to underscore the gravity of the issue and to keep up the negotiating momentum.
The Americans are still resisting formulas giving Iran security guarantees that it would not be the target of a military attack. The Europeans say that without such assurances, Iran will proceed with the pursuit of a nuclear weapons program despite its longstanding denials that it has that intention.
However, the Americans are willing to consider the waiving of some longstanding sanctions on Iran to allow it eventually to buy new civilian airplanes and to gain access to modern light-water reactors for civilian nuclear power, with Russia and the West controlling access to the fuel.