Tuesday, May 09, 2006

West to Offer Iran Benefits or Sanctions

Evelyn Leopold and Carol Giacomo, Reuters:
European officials on Tuesday worked on a package of carrots and sticks for Iran after major powers failed to agree on a U.N. resolution aimed at curbing Tehran's nuclear ambitions, diplomats said.

Political directors of the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France, along with Germany, authorized Britain, France and Germany, known as the EU3 negotiators with Iran, to prepare the package of benefits and penalties by Monday.

They had planned to offer the package after the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution demanding that Iran halt nuclear activities the West believes are a cover for bomb making, but no agreement could be reached on the resolution.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice backed the new approach. "The United States has long supported an effort by the Russians, an effort by the EU, to make available to the Iranian regime, should they choose to do so, a way to fulfill aspirations for a civil nuclear program," Rice said.

"And that is what is being discussed, is how might that be made available again," she told reporters.

Unlike a previous package offered to Iran by the EU3 last year, the Europeans aim to get the United States, Russia and China on board as partners.

There would be specific commitments to back sanctions if the economic and political inducements do not persuade Iran to abandon work related to nuclear weapons, one diplomat said.

"People will explore what are the triggers, whether there are triggers," British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett told a group of reporters. The Iranians had to realize "they don't need to carry on with it because there are ways to do what they say they want.

"What is the exact nature of something that could perhaps give them that way out? That is exactly what everybody will be exploring," Beckett said.

Foreign ministers from the six big powers met for two hours on Monday as a group and then again in one-on-one meetings on Tuesday.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said if Iran cooperated with the international community it could be rewarded with an "ambitious package -- in the domain of civilian nuclear energy, in the domain of trade, in the domain of technology and -- why not-- in the security domain." READ MORE

The United States previously opposed a new offer to Iran, insisting the security council take strong action to ensure Tehran complies with demands to halt uranium enrichment.

One European diplomat said Washington believed Iran would only respond to coercive measures and "remains very skeptical about any incentives proposal."


No agreement was reached among the ministers on the U.N. Security Council resolution, despite hours of talks, and U.S. and British officials said no vote was expected this week.

The resolution, drafted by France and Britain and backed by the United States, would order Iran to suspend its nuclear programs immediately under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which makes an action legally binding.

Chapter 7, used in dozens of Security Council resolutions, allows for sanctions and even war, but a separate resolution is required to specify either step.

Russia and China, which have veto power in the 15-nation Security Council, fear too much pressure on Iran would be self-defeating or precipitate an oil crisis. Both worry the United States would use a resolution under Chapter 7 to justify military action.

China's foreign minister Li Zhaoxing said on Tuesday he still opposed a resolution under Chapter 7.

Shortly before the meeting began, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wrote to President George W. Bush, the first letter from an Iranian head of state to a U.S. president since relations were broken off after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The letter focused on American wrongdoings and did not propose any solution for ending the nuclear dispute. U.S. officials dismissed it as a diversionary tactic.

(additional reporting by Irwin Arieff)