Saturday, May 20, 2006

The EU Incentives Proposal for Iran Is Rife with Hidden Dangers

US undersecretary of state Nicholas Burns was being polite when he said Friday, May 19, that Washington was still looking at the European proposal of incentives, and promised to deliver the US response at the next US meeting with European negotiators in London this coming Thursday. He was referring to the EU proposal to persuade Iran to abandon uranium enrichment, the heavy water plant under construction at Arak and its ambitious nuclear “research” projects. These concessions would assure the world that Tehran was not pursuing nuclear weapons.

But the package has already been repeatedly rejected by Iran, dismissed as “nuts and chocolates for gold.”

According to DEBKAfile’s sources in the US capital, Washington also finds it unacceptable and has informed the Europeans that their package poses more dangers - even than the consortium Moscow proposes for a joint venture to enrich uranium up to low levels in Russia. READ MORE

The Bush administration accuses the Europeans of going behind America’s back to assemble an apparently innocuous proposal which is rife with hidden dangers.

In the first place, not one, but several light water reactors are on offer. In the second, Iran will get an almost unlimited supply of fuel rods containing enriched uranium (up to 60%) for powering these reactors. Furthermore, the spent fuel contains fission products and plutonium which has military uses.

To tempt the Bush administration to endorse the deal, DEBKAfile’s American sources report the Europeans have topped it up with a perk which is presented as a huge bonanza for the US treasury: the sale to Iran of hundreds of new American passenger planes to restore its decrepit airline fleet.

However, Washington has not swallowed the bait. The economic incentives on offer to Iran are deemed generous enough. According to our sources, they include a massive financial-technological shot in the arm to bring Iran’s oil industry up to date. The 27-year American embargo, in effect since the Islamic revolution, has left Iran way behind the times in oil production technology. Because of obsolete equipment, its wells are under-exploited and spillage is extensive. The Iranians cannot execute deep drillings, develop new fields or construct modern pipeline networks.

In return for giving up their clandestine nuclear ambitions, Tehran is now being offered, with US assent, the most advanced oil production technology available in the world. The Bush administration has even agreed to complement the Iranian fuel cycle - as long as enrichment is kept to low levels and the process is transparent, meaning wholly accessible to international inspections, including snap visits.

US objections to the incentive plan restructured by the Europeans center on three points:

1. It undoes Washington’s achievement in persuading Moscow to drag its feet on completing the Bushehr reactor until Iran signs a guarantee to return the spent fuel rods to Russia. This, Tehran has so far not done; the European offer would let the mullahs off the hook and nullify the Washington-Moscow accord.

2. With the most advanced French and German uranium enrichment technologies in hand to power the light water reactors, there would be nothing to stop Iran racing ahead to overcome present difficulties and produce weapons-grade fuel in quantity.

3. The EU-Iran negotiating base ahead of formal negotiations is too high. Tehran will no doubt squeeze more concessions from the Europeans before they end.

As matters stand now, Washington’s dialogue with the Europeans appears to be a lot tougher than its undercover talks with the Iranians.