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EU foreign ministers at their February 12 meeting (official site)
BRUSSELS, February 13, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- EU officials launched a rare and hurried exercise in damage control today to counter a suggestion by the "Financial Times" newspaper that the bloc has concluded that Iran cannot be prevented from acquiring a nuclear bomb.
A spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the report misrepresents the contents of an internal "reflection paper."
The leak, suggesting that the EU has concluded Iran's progress toward building a nuclear weapon is irreversible, could hardly have come at a worse time.
EU governments have been watching nervously as U.S. officials accuse Iran of actively supporting the insurgency in Iraq. Some fear Washington is preparing the ground for military action.
The EU itself on February 12 signed on to UN Security Council sanctions on Iran, brought about by Tehran's refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.
Officials in Brussels were today quick to quash suggestions that the EU might be thinking a nuclear-armed Iran is inevitable. They emphasized time and again that the EU prefers dialogue to any other option.
Solana's spokeswoman, Christina Gallach, confirmed the existence of an internal "reflection paper" quoted by London's "Financial Times" newspaper. But she told RFE/RL emphatically that the document had been misquoted.
"The paper underlines that so far -- so far -- we have not been able to stop the process of enrichment that Iran has started," Gallach said. "At the same time, the paper puts a series of questions on how we should approach this issue in order to be able to get negotiated outcome of the current situation that does not move forward the process of enrichment -- therefore the nuclear program in Iran."
A senior EU official, who asked not to be named, told journalists in Brussels that the document was drawn up by officials and has not been "discussed nor endorsed at a political level."
But the document was distributed to the 27 EU foreign ministers who gathered in Brussels on February 12. Their debate on Iran was said to have been short.
The EU source said the document reflects the views of the officials who drafted it. He said official EU views are reflected only in the formal conclusions adopted by its foreign ministers or heads of government.
The official said the summary offered by the "Financial Times," and its headline, "Iran On Course For Nuclear Bomb, EU Told," give a "misleading" impression of the contents of the document. He said the document covered the whole range of the EU's relations with Iran -- not just the nuclear "dossier." He said its message was that the EU is pursuing a "two-track approach" to Iran. That means the EU is ready to talk to Tehran, but it is also ready to apply sanctions.
Gallach repeated this claim, telling RFE/RL that the document's message had been taken out of its context and distorted.
"It's rather unfortunate that an internal document which has no official status has been presented in such a distorted manner," Gallach said. "The alleged document is an internal reflection with the objective of underlining the European Union basic policy, which is the two-track approach. On [the] one [hand], we are implementing the [UN] Security Council resolutions, the ones that sanction Iran for not having behaved properly; on the other [hand], we are absolutely committed to a negotiated solution."
The senior EU source said the document does not say anywhere that the EU believes it is "too late to halt Iran's nuclear bomb" -- as he said the "Financial Times" suggests.
The official also said the EU has not concluded that negotiations are useless. Rather, he said, the document notes that negotiations have not succeeded "so far" and that the prospects "for the short term" do not look promising.
The official said that a quote in the "Financial Times" suggesting economic sanctions alone would not be enough to resolve the problems with Iran was also taken out of context. He said the EU document goes on to say that, besides sanctions, a dialogue is needed. He said the paper finishes at this point, posing the question of "how [the EU] can...get back into negotiations with Iran."
EU officials have consistently said they do not have reliable information as to the extent of the progress of Iran's nuclear program. But the fact that the document was circulated to ministers appears to mark escalating concern.
On February 12, both Solana and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, chairing the foreign ministers' meeting, said they had had a positive meeting with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, on the margins of a high-level security conference in Munich that ended on February 11.
But there is no news yet of any official plans by Tehran to break the deadlock and resume talks with the EU and the United States.