Tuesday, March 28, 2006

EU might accept nuclear deal with Iran-Germany

Louis Charbonneau, Reuters:
The EU could consider letting Iran pursue limited nuclear enrichment if the U.N. Security Council agreed, but Tehran should freeze all such activity for now, Germany's deputy foreign minister said on Tuesday.

Earlier this year, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) proposed allowing Iran to keep a limited programme of uranium enrichment -- technology that can produce fuel for atomic power plants or weapons -- after halting such work for several years and accepting more intrusive U.N. inspections.

Deputy Foreign Minister Gernot Erler said the idea could be considered by EU negotiators Germany, France and Britain, but it would need solid backing from the Security Council, which is now trying to agree on how to deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions.

"I was very impressed by the ICG proposals. I think we can consider these proposals but only on the basis that we have a united and common position in the Security Council," Erler said at a conference on Iran and the Middle East.

Tehran says it only seeks nuclear-generated electricity, not the capacity to produce atomic bombs as the West suspects.

Erler said Iran, not the West, should take the first step towards a compromise by restoring a moratorium on uranium enrichment it ended in January. READ MORE

Tehran's resumption of nuclear fuel work prompted the European Union trio to break off 2-1/2 years of talks with Iran and to back a U.S. demand to refer the Iranian nuclear dossier to the Security Council, which can impose sanctions.

On Thursday, the foreign ministers of Germany and the five permanent Security Council members -- France, Britain, United States, Russia and China -- will meet in Berlin to try to break the deadlock over a draft council statement on Iran.

Russia, backed by China, wants to gut most of the demands in the statement prepared by Britain and France and backed by the United States. They object to heavy council involvement, fearing it would lead to punitive measures, diplomats in New York said.


British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in London he hoped for agreement at the Berlin talks, despite the difficulties.

"There has been remarkable international consensus on Iran. I have never pretended that it has been anything other than hard going to achieve it. There are anxieties which we have to acknowledge. That's why it takes time," he told reporters.

Erler reiterated that the Europeans were ready to resume talks with Iran, but only if it halted all enrichment work.

Tehran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency responded by saying that the EU trio had rejected Iran's offer this month to re-suspend industrial-scale enrichment if it was permitted to continue nuclear fuel research.

"Iran has been and still is ready to go for negotiations," said Aliasghar Soltaniyeh.

He accused the EU three of allowing the United States to hijack the Iranian nuclear dossier and take it out of the hands of the IAEA, the U.N.'s Vienna-based nuclear watchdog.

Erler dismissed this accusation. "It is the other way around: we have convinced the United States that the European approach is the right one," he said.

Iran has voiced some interest in a Russian compromise proposal to enrich uranium on Tehran's behalf, but insists on a right to carry out some enrichment on its own soil.

"Iran welcomes the creation of an international centre to enrich nuclear fuel with the participation of other countries as part of an international consortium on its territory," Iran's embassy in Moscow reiterated in a statement on Tuesday.

History had shown that Iran could not rely on foreign suppliers, it said, adding that Security Council "interference" in the nuclear issue would only create more tensions.