Monday, May 15, 2006

EU Pledges 'Bold' Nuclear Offer for Iran

Yahoo News:
The European Union is preparing to make a "bold" offer to Iran, including possible security guarantees, to persuade it to curb its atomic plans, the bloc's foreign policy chief said. Javier Solana made the comment ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers including the so-called EU-3 -- Britain, France and Germany -- tasked with trying to defuse the West's diplomatic standoff with the Islamic state.

"It will be a generous package, a bold package, that will contain issues relating to nuclear, economic matters, and maybe, if necessary, security matters," Solana said.

"We are preparing a package (so) that it will be difficult for them to say no if what they really want is energy," he said. READ MORE

The West fears that Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon behind the screen of a civilian atomic energy programme. Tehran says it only wants to generate energy.

The United States is seeking sanctions from the UN Security Council but it has failed to win support for the move and has given its European allies "a couple of weeks" to draft a fresh approach.

The EU, whose package must also satisfy Russia and China, has until May 19 -- when negotiators from the Security Council's five permanent members plus Germany meet in London -- to complete its work.

Solana played down comments by Iran's hardline president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, rejecting any new EU offer that might demand that the Islamic republic halt uranium enrichment activities.

"Any offer which requires us to halt our peaceful nuclear activities will be invalid," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying on Sunday by the state news agency IRNA.

"I am surprised that a group of people hold meetings without us being present there and make decisions for us," he said.

Solana pointed out that the Iranians had yet to see the Union's offer.

As a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran has the right to build a civilian nuclear programme, but it must submit to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN watchdog body.

It has refused to fully cooperate with the agency and Ahmadinejad has pledged to forge ahead as international pressure to give up enrichment has increased.

"This is one of the last chances to resolve this conflict from a diplomatic point of view," Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn told reporters.

"We are ready to cooperate in the civilian nuclear domain and in trade and political areas," he said, before the meeting with his EU counterparts started.

"I think the Iranians are going to understand that the Europeans are courageous and are proposing something very important," he said.

A top White House official insisted Sunday that the United Nations is the "right forum" to address Iran's nuclear program, and shrugged off suggestions for direct talks between Washington and Tehran.

National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley said Washington would prefer to continue backing European countries holding direct talks with Iran, while pursuing the issue through the UN Security Council.

"We think the framework we have is even better (than direct talks)," Hadley told CNN's Late Edition.

"We have a number of countries that are engaged with Iran on this issue."