Wednesday, March 30, 2005

EU3 Mull Compromise in Iran Nuke Talks, Diplomats Say

Louis Charbonneau, Reuters:
France, Britain and Germany are considering letting Iran keep nuclear technology that could be used to make bombs, an apparent move towards a compromise with Tehran, diplomats said March 30.

However, they said such a step would lead to a clash with Washington, which has backed European Union talks with Iran on condition Tehran permanently renounce all activities that could produce nuclear fuel. READ MORE

Sharing U.S. suspicions that Tehran may be planning to develop nuclear arms, the EU trio has offered Iran political and economic incentives to scrap its uranium enrichment program, which can produce reactor fuel but also give Tehran the capability to make bomb-grade material.

The EU had previously said nothing short of dismantling the project would convince it that Iran does not want nuclear weapons, but diplomats said it was now considering letting Iran keep a limited enrichment program.

The Iranians have been offering this for a long time. What’s new is that the EU is thinking about it,” a diplomat with access to the negotiations said.

Iran has repeatedly said it will never give up its uranium enrichment program, part of sensitive nuclear work it has frozen while talks with the EU continue. It says its nuclear program is aimed solely at producing electricity.

At talks in Paris last week, both sides deferred discussion of Iran’s suggestion that it be allowed to keep 500 centrifuges, the machines that enrich uranium, diplomats said.

This would be too small for arms-related enrichment and would be closely watched by the International Atomic Energy Agency, experts say.

The EU has not said ‘yes,’ but has not said ‘no,’” the diplomat said.

The uranium would be enriched so that it contained no more than 3.5 percent of the uranium-235 atom. Bomb-grade uranium needs to be about 90 percent U-235.

Other diplomats confirmed the EU was considering Iran’s proposal, but emphasized this did not mean they would accept it.

The ideas they (Iran) came up with were not really acceptable, but we have said we will get back to them,” said a diplomat from the EU trio.

Informal talks between the two sides have been tentatively scheduled for April 29 in London, diplomats said, in addition to lower-level discussions beforehand in Geneva.

However, an EU diplomat close to the talks said Washington would oppose the EU agreeing to Iran’s proposal.

We can talk about a pilot enrichment plant, but our hands are tied. We’d lose the Americans if we agreed to it,” he said.

Washington’s support is vital to incentives offered to Iran such as beginning talks on joining the World Trade Organization and allowing Tehran to buy commercial aircraft spare parts.

One diplomat said the EU trio was divided on whether a compromise over enrichment would be acceptable, with France prepared to permit it, Britain strongly opposed and Germany between the two.

EU willingness to consider a compromise could be an attempt to boost support within Iran for those who favor engagement with the EU, ahead of June’s presidential election.

Even discussing this with the EU is considered a victory for the Iranians,” one diplomat said.