Nuclear Showdown Delayed, U.S. Allows Iran WTO Talks
Joseph Schuman, The Wall Street Journal:
The quid pro quo might not be official, but the timing leaves little room for doubt. Members of the World Trade Organization -- including the U.S. -- this morning agreed to allow Iran to enter membership talks, a day after Iranian negotiators backed off a threat to immediately restart nuclear processing. READ MORE
The Iranian team meeting with foreign ministers of France, Germany and Britain yesterday in Geneva, essentially agreed to delay until the end of July the restarting of a process that converts raw uranium yellow cake into hexafluoride gas -- which can then be enriched for use in energy production or atomic weaponry.
In turn, the Europeans promised to come up with a comprehensive economic, political, security and technological aid package that -- to Iranian eyes -- would be worth giving up the enrichment process. The agreement is tentative until accepted by Iranian leaders in Tehran but would allow both sides to step back, at least temporarily, from threats that could have resulted in a confrontation in front of the United Nations Security Council, the Los Angeles Times notes. Moreover, it allows the negotiations to be put aside until after the Iranian presidential election in mid-June -- and no Iranian politician would want to be seen as sacrificing the country's right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to reprocess nuclear fuel.
Despite the progress, the Europeans and the Iranians remain far apart on their ultimate goals, the New York Times notes. The Europeans want to prolong the freeze in Iran's enrichment activities until it becomes permanent -- something the Bush administration insists on -- while the Iranians are adamant that the freeze is only temporary and voluntary, a showing of good will. The negotiations have fallen apart several times since they began in November and the underlying issues remain touchy for both sides; asked what carrots the Europeans had offered as incentives, a European negotiator told the Times that "there were no carrots." Still, the U.S. -- with the hardest line against Tehran -- has clearly been a nonpresent party to the talks and the one with the biggest carrots and sticks. As a result of yesterday's agreement, the Bush administration decided not to block Iran's WTO application, a senior State Department official tells The Wall Street Journal. And WTO officials say that this morning, for the first time since Iranian membership was put on the consensus-reliant body's agenda, the U.S. made no objection.