EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana told the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee in Brussels that Iran's response to an impending EU compromise offer will show if Iran is "really serious" when it says its only goal is to produce energy.
Test Of Nuclear Intent
The EU offer has not been made public yet. It is thought to include reactors, and light nuclear fuel for civilian nuclear power plants in exchange for an end to uranium enrichment in Iran itself. It is also likely to specify a set of sanctions that would follow if Iran rejects it.
"If they reject it, it probably will be once again a clear sign that what they are looking for is not only the production of energy, but [that] they are looking for a level of enrichment that goes way beyond what is necessary [for] the production of energy, entering into what we may call nuclear-weapon type of enrichment." -- Solana
Solana said a rejection of the EU offer would show conclusively that Tehran is intent on acquiring nuclear weapons. "If they reject it, it probably will be once again a clear sign that what they are looking for is not only the production of energy, but [that] they are looking for a level of enrichment that goes way beyond what is necessary [for] the production of energy, entering into what we may call nuclear-weapon type of enrichment," he said.
Solana said the package will be discussed before the end of the week by the UN Security Council and the European Union. The EU will be represented by Great Britain and France, both permanent members of the council, and Germany. The three have long pursued talks with Iran.
Solana admitted today that Iran's initial response to the notion of the offer had not been "positive." Iran has consistently rejected any compromise that would prevent it from enriching uranium. The United States and the EU say Iran must not be allowed to enrich uranium under any circumstances.Convincing China, Russia
Solana said that he is "optimistic" that the UN Security Council can unite on Iran and adopt what he called a "meaningful resolution" -- despite continued unwillingness on the part of permanent members China and Russia.
Solana noted that China recently signed a long-term energy-delivery contract with Iran, and that Russia also has "interests." But Solana said he believes both countries can be persuaded to fall in line with the EU and the United States.
"Talking to them at the highest level, when they put on the balance having Iran being a force of destabilization in the region, and having Iran to supply their energy they [face] a really big question," he said. "To have the Middle East [stable] and secure [means] also [having security] of supply, because if you don't have a stable set of countries round Iran, in Iran proper the supplies [would not be guaranteed]."Iran's Regional Significance
Solana indicated that Iran's rising regional profile will be an important consideration. He said Iran has a key role to play in the stabilization of Iraq, wields "historical" influence in Afghanistan," and has influence over the Middle East peace process via the funds it "could be giving" to Hamas.
"The number of cards -- if you allow me to [put it that way] -- that Iran has now [on] the international arena [is] increasing and it is very important therefore that Iran acts with a sense of responsibility -- something that still has to be proven to be the case in the future," Solana added.
Solana welcomed signs that the United States is bringing to an end its policy of more than 20 years of having no direct contacts with Iran. Relations between the two sides were broken off when the U.S. Embassy was stormed by students and its diplomats taken hostage in the wake of the Islamic revolution in 1979.
Solana said a resumption of bilateral contacts would be "logical" and welcomed a recent decision by President George W. Bush to allow U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad to have direct contacts with Iranian officials. However, Iran has yet to accept them.
Economic sanctions could further undermine Iran's already shaky economy (Fars)
MOVING TOWARD SANCTIONS: If the United Nations Security Council imposes sanctions on Iran, domestic support for Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad will wane, according to ALEX VATANKA, Eurasia editor for Jane's Information Group.
Vatanka told a February 24 RFE/RL briefing that "economic sanctions will hurt the average Iranian" and, consequently, many "will blame the ruling clerics" for making life difficult and "impairing the country's long term development."
Vatanka said sanctions would be a serious challenge to the Iranian government. If harsh economic sanctions were imposed, Iran's poorest population will be hurt the hardest -- and might react "as they did in the 1970s and protest in the streets." Sanctions on travel, Vatanka said, would hurt a many Iranians because "Iran is a nation of small traders" who depend on the ability to travel to earn an income. According to Vatanka, unemployment in Iran is estimated at 30 percent, "so small trading is essential to survival." Although current U.S. sanctions "haven't worked," he said, "Iranians fear an oil embargo." He stressed that "oil revenues are a major part of the economy, so it is critical to look at this sector."
Should negotiations with the European Union and the UN fail, Vatanka believes that Iran would follow a "North Korea model," since Ahmadinejad's base of support among the "Islamist militias" has been "urging withdrawal from the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty]." The Iranian government's "tactic" so far, Vatanka said, is governed by the belief that "by shouting the loudest, you'll get concessions [from the West]."
Listen to the complete panel discussion (about 60 minutes):
THE COMPLETE STORY: RFE/RL's coverage of the controversy surrounding Iran's nuclear program.
CHRONOLOGY An annotated timeline of Iran's nuclear program.