Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Germany Can Accept Nuclear Enrichment in Iran

Louis Charbonneau, Reuters:
Iran should be allowed to enrich uranium for power generation provided there is close monitoring by U.N. inspectors to ensure that it is not trying to develop atomic weapons, Germany's defence minister said. The minister's comments could suggest that after years of failed negotiations with Iran, Germany and some Western powers are willing to compromise with Iran over enrichment in order to resolve peacefully the nuclear stand-off with Tehran.

But it is unclear if this view has been agreed among all Western powers and if it would be acceptable to hardline camps in Washington and London, Western diplomats say. READ MORE

In an interview with Reuters, Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung was asked if Iran should be allowed to enrich uranium under scrutiny by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency.

"I think so. The offer includes everything. That means the civilian use of nuclear energy is possible but not atomic weapons. And monitoring mechanisms must be applied. I think it would be wise for Iran to accept this offer," he said.

Jung was referring to a June 6 offer of incentives made to Iran by Germany and the five permanent U.N. Security Council members -- the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia.

He said close IAEA oversight of any Iranian enrichment activities would provide the necessary assurances to the international community.

"IAEA inspections can provide those assurances through monitoring. That is not a problem," he said.

Western countries worry that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons under cover of an atomic power programme. Iran says it only wants peaceful nuclear energy.

The package of incentives is conditioned on Iran forgoing large-scale uranium enrichment for the time being and answering outstanding questions about its programme.

In order to begin negotiations on the offer, the sextet has demanded that Iran temporarily halt all uranium enrichment -- including small-scale work -- but Iran has so far refused.

Tehran has yet to respond to the offer and the United States and Germany have called for an answer by the G8 summit in July.


Several EU diplomats have told Reuters that Germany would be willing to let Iran continue enriching uranium on a small scale if it responds positively to the incentives offer.

They said this view put Berlin at odds with Washington and London, which insist on a full suspension of all enrichment work for any talks to begin followed by a sustained suspension of large-scale enrichment work for at least several years.

According to the United States and Britain, this long freeze is necessary because Iran concealed its enrichment programme from the IAEA for 18 years before declaring it in 2003.

Russia and China would have no problem with allowing Iran to keep enriching, EU diplomats say.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei has also been advocating such a compromise with Iran as the only realistic way of finding a negotiated solution that avoids U.S. airstrikes on Iranian military facilities, diplomats in Vienna have said.

Jung, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats, said he understood U.S. reservations but added that a ban on Iranian enrichment work was unrealistic.

"One cannot forbid Iran from doing what other countries in the world are doing in accordance with international law. The key point is whether a step towards nuclear weapons is taken. This cannot happen," he said.

The point of the offer was to ensure that Iran, whose president has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map", never develops a nuclear weapon, Jung said.

"Overall, Europe, the U.S., Russia and China are working together here to ensure there is no Iranian nuclear weapons option. That is the offer of the international community. It is on the table, and it means that the security and interests of Iran, as far as they are justified, are guaranteed," he said.