Thursday, November 10, 2005

U.S., Europe Agree to Compromise With Iran

George Jahn, The Guardian:
The United States and Europe have agreed on a compromise plan to accept expanded nuclear activities by Iran, but only if the enrichment process - a possible pathway to nuclear arms - is moved to Russia, senior officials and diplomats said Thursday.

If accepted by Iran, the proposal could end a tug-of-war over whether to refer the Islamic republic to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.

The officials and diplomats, who demanded anonymity in exchange for discussing the strategy, said the plan would allow Iran to continue converting raw uranium into the gas that is spun by centrifuges into enriched uranium.

But actual enrichment would take place in Russia, they told The Associated Press. READ MORE

Depending on its level, enrichment can be used to generate energy - Iran's stated interest - or make nuclear weapons - something the United States and its allies say Tehran wants to do.

In August, Iran resumed uranium conversion. That prompted Britain, France and Germany to break off talks with Tehran meant to dispel fears about its nuclear agenda. It also led a September meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation board to approve a resolution clearing the way for Iran's referral to the U.N. Security Council at a Nov. 24 board session.

The IAEA is probing nearly 18 years of covert Iranian nuclear activities, including experiments that could be used in weapons development, which were revealed more than three years ago. It recently agreed to accelerate cooperation with IAEA inspectors to blunt the threat of Security Council action.

Publicly, the Americans and the three European nations representing the EU in the talks have insisted Iran needs to stop all enrichment-related activity - including uranium conversion - to banish the prospect of Security Council referral.

But a senior European official told the AP the EU and Washington were now prepared to allow Iran to continue conversion as long as the gas produced was shipped to Russia and enriched there. That would allow international control over the level of enrichment, ensuring it was below the levels that can be used for weapons.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei ``supports the efforts of the countries that are presently engaged in developing ... a proposal'' acceptable to all, said Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the Vienna-based agency. She declined to discuss specifics.

The New York Times first reported that the Europeans and the Americans had approved the new offer. But the European official emphasized that neither the Americans nor the Europeans were eager to claim the plan as their own.

Instead, he and a diplomat told the AP they were looking to the Russians to make such an offer and for ElBaradei to put the initiative to the Iranians.

Such a plan would give Washington, Paris, London and Berlin a chance to save diplomatic face after months of saying they would not accept conversion. With both Russia and China - veto-carrying Security Council members - likely to block any punitive action by the council, it would also allow them to back away from such a threat.

Russia had floated the proposal of cooperating with the Iranians months ago, and South Africa had made similar offers. But the Europeans and Americans were opposed.

And while Iranian officials have suggested internationalizing Tehran's enrichment program, the European official said the Iranians have up to now insisted on keeping all operations in Iran.

In Moscow, Nikolai Shingaryov, the spokesman for the Russian Federal Nuclear Energy Agency, said that he was unaware of any new plan to allow Iran to make a precursor of enriched uranium for further enrichment in Russia.


Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov contributed to this report from Moscow.
The problem with this proposal is that assumes the present Iranian regime can be trusted not to engage in secret enrichment activities. Not long ago the regime was forced to admit they had a secret nuclear program. What has changed that we should trust them now?