Thursday, June 08, 2006

Diplomats: Iran Will Reject the Int'l. Offer in the End

Ian Traynor, The Guardian:
In a major western concession, Iran is to be allowed to retain some uranium enrichment activities if it reaches agreement with the US, Russia, Europe, and China on its nuclear programme. Diplomats said yesterday that the terms of a new package of proposed rewards delivered to Tehran on Tuesday by Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, state that Iran must freeze uranium enrichment activities before and during the talks.

Once "confidence is restored in the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme", it would be allowed to resume enrichment on a scale to be determined. "Those are rights under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty," said a diplomat.

Mr Solana said in Germany yesterday: "They will have to stop [uranium enrichment] now, we will have to negotiate with no process of enrichment in place ... after the finalisation of the negotiations, we will see what happens."

Uranium enrichment is the nub of the three-year dispute, as the process delivers the know-how and, ultimately, the fissile material for a bomb. Iran said in April that it had successfully enriched uranium at its underground complex at Natanz, developed clandestinely over 18 years until it was disclosed in 2002.

Until now the US has insisted on an end to enrichment as the basis for any deal. During two years of EU-Iran talks the western strategy was to secure "cessation" rather than only "suspension" of uranium enrichment. The fresh detail emerging of the package proposed to Tehran confirms another concession by the west after last week's startling U-turn by Washington, which offered to negotiate with the Iranians for the first time in 27 years.

The terms being offered vindicate Iran's brinkmanship. By stalling, bluffing and threatening, it has improved the terms on offer from the west in less than a year. The new package is more generous than that offered last August by Britain, France and Germany when the talks collapsed and Iran lifted its uranium enrichment freeze.

It is now being offered international acceptance of a civil nuclear energy programme, equipment and cooperation on the construction of reactors by big western nuclear engineering contractors, and the prospect of ultimately keeping some national uranium enrichment projects.

Washington's latest concessions are balanced by a greater international consensus to move towards sanctions by the UN security council should the Iranians reject the conditions.

At a meeting yesterday in Vienna, home of the International Atomic Energy Agency, senior US diplomats told their allies that the enrichment freeze was absolutely essential for the talks to start. With European support, the US is insisting that the suspension must be verified by IAEA inspectors before negotiations can get under way on the ambitious package of political, economic, trade, security, and technological rewards.

Given the complexity of the proposed deal, as well as the deep mistrust between the sides, the talks could last years, as could the process of Iran "restoring confidence" in its nuclear activities, meaning that the enrichment freeze would also need to stay in place for years. That may be too much for Tehran to stomach. Diplomats expect that it will play for time, by seeking "negotiations about negotiations", but will reject the international offer in the end. While not setting a deadline for a response to Mr Solana's mission, the US and the Europeans want a reply "within weeks", so that national leaders can map out the strategy at a G8 summit in St Petersburg in mid-July. READ MORE

The new formula would enable Iran to save face by maintaining that it had defended its right to uranium enrichment against overwhelming pressure.