Friday, February 25, 2005

President faces hard sell over Iran policy

Financial Times:
Senior Europeans involved in negotiating Iran's nuclear future have lobbied the US for months to give its full backing to the diplomatic process and put some incentives on the table.

But in vain - Washington repeatedly closed the door amid fraught discussions.

However, in a significant shift, President George W. Bush agreed after his summit meetings in Brussels and Mainz this week to reconsider. Aides suggested the US might offer some incentives and, in exchange, Europe would consider what joint "consequences" would follow any collapse in the talks with Iran.

Yesterday Mr Bush went one step further. In Bratislava, Slovakia, he said it was important that the "EU3" - Britain, France and Germany - also represented Nato and the US in their negotiations with Iran. ...

One unanswered question is how far Europe would go in imposing sanctions against Iran if it rejected the offer of outside supplies of nuclear fuel in exchange for a permanent end to its programme of developing the full fuel cycle.

Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, is expected to follow up the issue in London next week. One diplomat said there needed to be agreement on the "definition of failure" in the talks with Iran, and a deadline. The US believes Iran is buying time while covertly continuing its weapons programme.

Iran's position on US involvement in the negotiating process has been deliberately ambiguous. Although Tehran does not want the US to block a deal with Europe, it does not necessarily want direct US engagement.

Neo-conservatives in Washington, pushing for a clear policy of "regime change" against Iran, have been dismayed at the sense of drift in the administration. Mr Bush may be about to change that, but not in the direction they want. ...