Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Unity avowed on Iran after Iraq split

Saul Hudson, Reuters:
The United States and Britain vowed on Tuesday to remain united in curbing Iran's nuclear programs and avoid a repeat of the rift between the Bush administration and its European allies over Iraq.

With the Europeans due to return to the table with Tehran next week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her British counterpart underscored their commitment to negotiations on ending sensitive Iranian nuclear activities but expressed confidence they and their European allies would act together if the issue were to go to the U.N. Security Council.

"There were many people around who were trying to say this would be another occasion for a, quote, 'split,' between Europe and America and so on," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said at a joint news conference with Rice in Washington. "Those people are being confounded."

Rice said the Bush administration's policy shift this year in agreeing to back European economic incentives for Iran to limit its nuclear development had allowed the allies to push a common strategy on Tehran.

"We've come to a united approach in dealing with Iran," the top U.S. diplomat said. READ MORE

In what was the worst trans-Atlantic disagreement in decades, the United States, backed by its closest ally, Britain, invaded Iraq in 2003 over the fierce objections of traditional allies France and Germany.

With the United States generally taking a harder line toward Iran than Britain, France and Germany -- who have been negotiating with the Islamic republic -- political analysts have feared another rift with Europe.

Washington shifted position in March in return for a pledge from the "EU Three" to take Iran to the Security Council, which can impose sanctions, if the negotiations fail to persuade Tehran to give up its atomic fuel program.

"We believe that the process that the EU Three is engaged in is one that is well worth pursuing in order to give Iran a chance to do what Iran needs to do," Rice said.

Straw said: "The E-3, as well as the United States (are) agreed on the action which we reluctantly but necessarily have to take," if the talks collapse.

Tehran says its nuclear program is intended only for power generation, but Washington says Iran is developing nuclear weapons and the Europeans want guarantees Iran will not develop arms under the cover of the nuclear program.

Talks next week between Britain, Germany, France and Iran will address Tehran's threat to resume some activity related to enriching uranium, which the Europeans have warned would force them to support Washington in taking Security Council action.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi told the official IRNA news agency this week that Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Hassan Rohani would meet the French, British and German foreign ministers on May 23 to try to reach an 11th-hour compromise.