Thursday, May 18, 2006

EU Weighs Security Pledge for Iran, US Resists

Khaleej Times Online:
European nations want to offer Iran security guarantees as a key incentive to freeze its nuclear enrichment programme, but US officials say Teheran can expect no non-aggression pledge from Washington.

Iran insists its nuclear programme is aimed at the peaceful generation of electricity. But Western countries are convinced Iran is gradually developing the capability to produce enriched uranium fuel for atomic bombs, not just nuclear power stations.

Mohamed ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has urged Washington and the European Union to consider Iran’s precarious security in an unstable Middle East -- tacitly acknowledging that Iran’s atomic programme is a deterrent.

”Iran is surrounded by countries that have nuclear weapons,” the head of the UN nuclear watchdog said recently. The only solution is a package that should ... include security issues.”

An EU trio of Britain, France and Germany is preparing just such a deal, including a European light-water nuclear reactor and a security component if Iran halts fuel enrichment.

The offer will be discussed in detail at a meeting of senior EU, US, Russian and Chinese officials next week in London.

EU officials say security guarantees are the major sticking point affecting their ability to produce a credible package.

European diplomats involved in the process say only the United States, which has invaded two of Iran’s neighbours -- Iraq and Afghanistan -- in the last five years can guarantee Iran’s security. But Washington refuses to do so.

Regional security mechanism

One well-placed EU official said the Europeans want to offer to cooperate with any regional security mechanism that might be created by Iran and its Gulf neighbours.

Another acknowledged that the political and security aspects were the trickiest. “That’s the area where it’s most difficult to come up with something unanmbiguous, to put something concrete on the table,” the official said.

Several diplomats said Washington was considering an indirect security guarantee, which one EU diplomat said might involve “a US blessing for EU guarantees of Iranian security”.

Even that would be a major step for a reluctant Washington.

US officials denied they were thinking of any kind of security guarantees for Teheran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be wiped off the map.

I’ll let others speak for themselves. But from the United States, that’s not on the table,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

John Bolton, Washington’s UN ambassador, has said the United States could only revive ties with Teheran, as it did with Libya this week, if Iran renounced enrichment and “terrorism”.

The only complication is Iran’s continued support for terrorism and its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. When Iran is prepared to give that up, it can have a different relations with us, as Libya has proven and we have proven in last few days,” Bolton told reporters.

US officials point to Iran’s support for Lebanon’s Hizbollah guerrillas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas movements fighting Israel, as well as its suspected links with Shia militias in Iraq.

The United States severed diplomatic ties with Iran after militant students seized the US embassy in Teheran following the 1979 Islamic revolution.

One EU diplomat said the United States had promised Israel it would never give Iran a security guarantee before it recognised the Jewish state’s right to exist and ended all support for anti-Israeli militants.

Media reports of the EU trio’s plan to offer Iran a state-of-art European light-water nuclear reactor prompted complaints this week from several members of Congress, who said the plan would violate a new US non-proliferation law.

However, an EU source said: “We wouldn’t be discussing it in these terms if we weren’t confident of US backing.”

Ahmadinejad rejected the EU offer in advance, ruling out any halt to nuclear fuel enrichment and saying the Europeans were offering “candy for gold”.

But the EU three aim to present a package that EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana says would guarantee Iran a hi-tech nuclear energy programme, if that is what it truly seeks.

When Iran rejects the offer, few will be left with any doubt that Iran wants nuclear weapons. If they don’t take their chance, then we’re going to get tough,” an EU diplomat said. READ MORE