Thursday, March 03, 2005

Bush Hopes Iran Policy Shift Will Advance U.S. Goals

President Bush's consideration of incentives as a boost to Europe-Iran nuclear negotiations is a dramatic departure from his usual insistence that proliferation rule-breakers not be rewarded.

Bush aims to gain more than he gives with this policy shift, which appears narrowly targeted and emphasizes pragmatic politics over ideology. It would open the door to Iran beginning World Trade Organization accession talks and purchasing civilian airplane spare parts.

Aides say the move will help prove to the Europeans that Iran is bent on producing nuclear weapons under guise of a civilian program and only concerted international pressure in the form of sanctions, not inducements, has any chance of resolving the row peacefully.

The U.S. shift would be a "small change that is part of a much broader strategy and the strategy is to work with the Europeans to get Iran to very clearly fish or cut bait" in negotiations, a senior U.S. official told Reuters.

Added a senior congressional aide: "We went along (with incentives) because at some point you have to convince the Europeans their approach is going to fail. You go along with it and at some point you say, 'we tried and as you can see it doesn't work very well."'

Officials on both sides of the Atlantic see June or shortly thereafter as pivotal.

"The talks between the EU3 (France, Britain and Germany) and Iran will have to bring us at some stage in ... the spring or summer to the point where we make an assessment of whether there is progress ... or whether one should look at other options," a senior EU diplomat said.

The senior U.S. official concurred: "If we don't get somewhere (with negotiations) by June, the Europeans will be on board with referring the (Iran) issue to the U.N. Security Council. My sense is that would be part of a deal" under which Bush would accede to incentives. ...

Now in his second term, an increasingly confident Bush is "getting beyond the tactical" and taking a more "strategic" approach that aims at a "results-oriented" foreign policy, another senior administration official said. ...

Iran is unlikely to see a payoff from any incentives offer unless it verifiably abandons its uranium enrichment program.

But the administration also seems to believes that bringing Iran into the WTO, and forcing more engagement with the world, could boost the country's pro-democracy advocates, thus advancing Bush's hopes for more democracy in the Middle East.

"Slowly, reluctantly, begrudgingly the United States is being drawn into a new reality" that to secure European support for sanctions, it must first join Europe in offering further incentives to Iran that might give negotiations a credible chance of success, said Geoffrey Kemp of the Nixon Center.

Although some influential U.S. analysts have long urged Bush to reach out to Iran, others are anxious about this approach. "If you start offering incentives to countries to do what they are bound to do by international law, where does it stop," said Danielle Pletka of the conservative American Enterprise Institute.