Iran Quietly Learns of Penalties in a Nuclear Incentives Deal
Elaine Sciolino and William Broad, The New York Times:
When a formal incentives package by six nations to encourage Iran to curb its nuclear program was presented in writing in Tehran last week, it omitted a long list of potential punishments should Iran reject it, according to senior officials familiar with the package.
Instead, it was left to Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, to deliver news about the sticks — only orally. READ MORE
In a one-on-one meeting without aides, Mr. Solana told Ali Larijani, the chief Iranian negotiator, that there would be "serious consequences" against Iran in the United Nations Security Council if Iran did not suspend key nuclear activities and embrace the offer, the officials added.
The decision to focus on the benefits for Iran and to leave no paper trail about possible penalties reflects a new international negotiating strategy toward Iran.
The six nations — the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany — have decided to treat Iran not as an errant child whose behavior must be modified or a rogue state that must be punished, but as a potential responsible negotiating partner.
The possible punishments were kept separate and informal for two reasons: to prevent Iran from rejecting the offer out of hand and to maintain the fragile unity of the six nations that authored it, officials said.
"In the past, we were told we didn't have enough respect" for the Iranians, one senior official said. "Maybe we're learning, and this time our approach was different, more respectful."
The strategy also reflects the recent shift in the policy of the Bush administration, which has long portrayed Iran as the world's worst state perpetrator of terrorism, determined to become a nuclear power. It follows a decision last month by the administration to sit at the same negotiating table with Iran — if Iran fully suspended its uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities.
Iran had rejected as insulting a previous 31-page proposal presented by France, Britain and Germany last August that promised some incentives in exchange for tough measures to freeze Iran's activities related to enriching uranium, which can be used to fuel nuclear reactors or atom bombs.
This time, the United States, Russia and China are full partners in the negotiations, with all six nations determined to give Iran a package so generous that it would have no reason to say no.
The disclosure that the formal written proposal omitted disincentives came to light after extracts were published Wednesday by Agence France-Presse. The text was read to The New York Times by an official.
Some officials involved in the negotiations expressed dismay that the tightly held document had leaked, and that its elements could be misunderstood, in part because only part of it is written down.
For example, those in the United States opposed to any reconciliation with Iran could use it to criticize the administration for appearing to abandon its tough line. Those in Iran who want the country to continue its enrichment-related activities could fault it for depriving Iran of what is widely considered a sovereign right.
"We need private diplomacy and this is very bad," said one senior official. "The paper presented only tells part of the story."
Indeed, an earlier written draft of the proposal listed a variety of possible punitive measures, like an embargo on goods and technologies and a ban on financial transactions related to Iran's nuclear program.
Now, the lack of clarity about what constitutes possible penalties could give the Iranians the impression that they could seek even more concessions, as they have done in the past.
Two weeks ago, on the day before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with her five counterparts in Vienna to work out the final package, she gave the impression it included both incentives and disincentives.
But Ms. Rice was swayed by the Europeans, particularly the Russians and the Germans, that the best way to get the Iranians on board was to formally offer carrots, and informally offer sticks, an administration official said.
The Russians, in particular, who have opposed Security Council sanctions against Iran, argued that the incentives option had to be exhausted first. Mr. Solana, a nuclear physicist by training, was given the leeway on how to present what was called the "two pathways," officials said.
All officials spoke on the condition of anonymity under normal rules of diplomacy.
One key goal of the offer, according to the text, is "to develop relations and cooperation with Iran based on mutual respect," the first time the Bush administration has indicated that it is prepared to deal with Iran in such a positive way.
Many elements of the proposal were already known, but the disclosure of the text was the first authoritative rendering of its details.
It includes such technical inducements as international commitments to support joint projects with Tehran for building new light-water reactors to make electricity.
The offer lays out two ways that Tehran could fuel such reactors without resorting to its own enrichment of uranium for the production of nuclear fuel — the central objection of the West because such material can be used to fuel not only nuclear reactors but also atom bombs.
The first alternative would have Iran participate in an "international facility" in Russia that would enrich uranium, an idea that Tehran has consistently rejected.
The second would have Iran draw on a commercial supply of nuclear fuel that the International Atomic Energy Agency would supervise and that would act as a "buffer stock" lasting for up to five years.
In exchange, the proposal requires Iran to "suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities" and to commit to continue the suspension throughout negotiations on the incentives package.
In an indication that informal negotiations with Iran have essentially begun, Mr. Solana and Mr. Larijani spoke by phone on Wednesday. They "touched base and compared notes," but did not discuss the substance of the proposal, an aide to Mr. Solana said.
Mr. Solana called it "a constructive conversation," adding, "It will be followed by others."
Elaine Sciolino reported from Paris for this article, and William J. Broad from New York. Helene Cooper contributed reporting from Washington.