Thursday, June 15, 2006

U.S., Europe Urge Iran to Compromise

George Jahn, The Washington Post:
The United States and Europe urged Iran on Thursday to lift the veil of secrecy surrounding its nuclear activities and freeze uranium enrichment, with Washington warning that continued defiance could result in tough measures by the U.N. Security Council. In response, Iran warned the West against undue pressure, saying "the carrot and stick has always been counterproductive."

The comments came as the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation board met in Vienna to discuss two reports prepared by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei highlighting Iran's refusal to provide agency experts information on activities with a potential nuclear weapons dimension. READ MORE

Francois-Xavier Deniau, France's chief delegate to the board meeting, said Iran has refused to cooperate with the agency's probe of suspicious plutonium experiments and other activities that could be linked to a weapons program.

"Cooperation with the agency has been reduced to almost nothing these last few months and ... numerous important questions remain to be resolved," Deniau said, according to a statement.

U.S. chief delegate Gregory L. Schulte said Iran also continues to withhold cooperation with the IAEA "on almost every outstanding issue." He urged Tehran to accept a six-power offer for talks on its disputed nuclear program, warning refusal could bring to bear "the weight of the Security Council."

Iran's statement was relatively low key, promising to examine the six-power package and praising some "positive elements" while noting unspecified "ambiguities."

Still, chief Iranian representative Ali Ashgar Soltanieh warned against "the use of the language of threat" in trying to persuade Tehran to cooperate. And the statement said Iran was ready to negotiate only "without any precondition" _ an apparent rejection of a stipulation that Tehran must suspend enrichment as a condition of starting talks.

In Shanghai, China, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and said Iran is ready to enter into negotiations on the package. He said he hoped Iran would set a date for the start of talks, but offered no further details.

Schulte said there was widespread agreement among the IAEA board that Iran must cooperate now. "With few exceptions, countries on the board ... call on Iran to cooperate with the IAEA and create the conditions necessary for a comprehensive settlement," he told reporters outside the meeting.

In his comments inside the meeting, Schulte said there was international agreement on the choice Iran must make: accept the offer of perks in exchange for a long-term moratorium on enrichment and full disclosure of still secret parts of its nuclear program _ or face the prospect of penalties.

"Europe, Russia, China and the United States (are) standing side-by-side in complete solidarity" on that choice, he said, alluding to the countries that met June 1 in Vienna to endorse the package of incentives or punishments being offered to Iran.

The United States said late last month that it was ready to break with decades of policy and talk to Iran directly in a multinational framework on its nuclear program. Russia and China also seem ready to join.

Still, China, Russia and possibly Germany might push to allow Iran some tightly controlled and small-scale enrichment rather than see talks founder, diplomats said. Russia and China also might balk at enforcing selective U.N. sanctions on Iranian officials and activities.

The U.S. and European comments were relatively tough, considering recent efforts by the West to tone down the rhetoric out of concerns that riling Iran could cause it to reject the offer of talks.

On Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki also sounded conciliatory, saying his country wanted to resolve the nuclear standoff and describing the offer of incentives as "a step forward." Still, he suggested that Iran's insistence on uranium enrichment was not negotiable.

The United States and its allies say Iran wants to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran says it only wants to generate energy.

The six-power package calls on Iran to suspend enrichment for the duration of any negotiations, and sets out the priority of a long-term moratorium of such activity until the international community is convinced that Tehran's nuclear aims are peaceful.

A statement by the European Union noted that "international concerns about Iran's nuclear program remain to be resolved and that repeated requests by the board remain to be fulfilled."

Separately, the 16-nation nonaligned bloc said that all nations have a "basic and inalienable right" to develop, produce and use atomic energy.

However, a Western diplomat said the statement did not amount to direct support for Iran, adding that many nonaligned nations backed the six-power package of incentives.


Associated Press writer Veronika Oleksyn contributed to this report.