Nuclear Chirac must lead resistance to Iran's latest nuclear offer

Chirac must lead resistance to Iran’s latest nuclear offer

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The Times: The latest Iranian brinkmanship on its nuclear hopes is ingenious. But it should be a non-starter: a concession that other countries cannot contemplate.
The Times

World Briefing by Bronwen Maddox

THE latest Iranian brinkmanship on its nuclear hopes is ingenious. But it should be a non-starter: a concession that other countries cannot contemplate.

Whether Iran extracts any mileage will depend on whether it can split France from Britain and the US.

Its tactics are clearly to try to divide and rule, but as Japan’s exasperation has shown this week, that may backfire.

“To be able to arrive at a solution, we have just had an idea,” announced Mohammad Saeedi, deputy chief of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation. The declaration, made yesterday to France Info radio, must win a prize for contrived spontaneity in the service of diplomacy.

The idea, he said, was that “France create a consortium for the production in Iran of enriched uranium”. “That way France, through the companies Eurodif and Areva, could control in a tangible way our enrichment activities.”

Except that it couldn’t. The flaw of this plan, for those trying to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, is that it would allow Iran to master the most sensitive technology on its own soil.

If it later chose to kick out its partners, retaining the factories and expertise, there would be little that anyone could do.

Mastering enrichment is the biggest technical hurdle in acquiring nuclear weapons. Iran says that its aim is only to make fuel for power stations, but many fear its ambitions are military.

Eurodif is a branch of Areva, a French state-controlled nuclear manufacturer and was created in part with backing from pre-revolutionary Iran in the 1970s. A spokesman yesterday said the company was not involved in any talks.

There is no mystery about the timing of the Iranian brainwave. Iran has just ignored another deadline set by the “P5 plus one”: the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the US, Britain, France, Russia and China), plus Germany.

Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief, reported back to the six this weekend that Ali Larijani, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, turned down the demand to freeze enrichment before talks could start.

France has taken a tough line against Iran’s nuclear programme, like that of Britain and the US. If Iran suddenly hopes that it can split France from the pack, that may derive from President Chirac’s suggestion last month that they may drop the threat of sanctions in return only for a temporary suspension of the work.

But a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said yesterday that the proposal was “new to us” and that France was fully behind the joint position.

A senior British official added that “unless there is a sudden and unexpected change of heart” in Tehran “then we can expect this to move to New York in the next week or so”. The P5-plus-one countries are drawing up a second resolution to put UN sanctions on Iran’s nuclear and ballistic industries.

A potential deal by Japan to help to develop Iran’s oilfields showed signs this week of stalling. All the same, as one British official said, Iran’s opponents have few options left. The toughest sanctions may come from the US, acting on its own.

Death row dilemma

PRESIDENT Musharraf of Pakistan has bought himself time in the case of the British citizen on death row for an alleged murder in 1988. The death penalty against Mirza Tahir Hussain was revoked by the High Court but reapplied by a Sharia (Islamic) court. The execution has been postponed until the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. But Musharraf will then have to side with one side or the other, a familiar dilemma, but one he is usually more easily able to finesse.

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