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Iran: EU Foreign Ministers Discuss Nuclear Crisis

President Ahmadinejad continues to insist on Iran's "right" to nuclear technology (epa) PRAGUE, May 15, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The foreign ministers of Great Britain, France, and Germany are briefing the other EU states today in Brussels on their new proposal to defuse the Iran nuclear crisis, as they try to resume their bid to persuade Iran to give up uranium enrichment in exchange for incentives.

The EU meeting in Brussels today is not expected to result in a public unveiling of the new offer. Instead, the EU-3 (Britain, France, and Germany) will use the meeting to brief other EU members on their package and elicit their support.

Still, the outlines of the new initiative are becoming clearer.

EU High Representative for the Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana told reporters that "it will be a generous package, a bold package that will contain issues related to nuclear, economic matters and maybe, if necessary, security matters."

And, Solana added, the offer would respect Iran's right to a peaceful nuclear program while removing concerns about weapons-related activities. "We have said over and over again that we have nothing against Iran having [nuclear] capabilities if they are strictly devoted to the production of energy," he said. "And we have said we will be always ready to cooperate with them. What we think is not appropriate and not acceptable is to take the other route, which is not to produce energy but to produce arms and weapons."

Offer Rejected In Advance?

But even as the foreign ministers meet, there is no certainty an incentives package can persuade Iran to give up uranium enrichment.

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said on May 14 that any EU proposals are "invalid" if "they want to offer us things they call incentives in return for renouncing our rights" to uranium enrichment.

"We ask Western countries: If this nuclear technology [uranium enrichment] is so bad, why do you possess it? If nuclear technology is useful, why can't we make use of it?" Ahmadinejad said in a speech to university students in Jakarta, Indonesia, on May 11.

EU officials say that the new EU-3 package expands the earlier offer of incentives by the trio to Tehran in August. At that time, the EU-3 offered to boost trade and provide commercial technology to Iran for its nuclear energy program. In exchange, the trio demanded Tehran give up all nuclear activities that are not limited to purely peaceful purposes.

Tehran rejected that EU offer and in January announced it had resumed research into uranium enrichment that had been suspended during the talks with the EU.

Many parties are urging the EU-3 and Iran to keep talking, including the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which on April 28 reported Iran to the UN Security Council for restarting uranium enrichment and curtailing surprise visits by international arms inspectors.

Washington Increasing Pressure

So far, the United States has backed the EU negotiating process but stayed outside it. Still, Washington says it wants to ratchet up pressure on Iran by threatening punitive measures in addition to any EU offer of incentives.

"We have been saying and [we are] ready to pursue with like-minded states, options that might be outside of the Security Council, if necessary, on the financial side because the Iranians, the central banker of terrorism, the Iranians, who are causing all kinds of difficulty in the Middle East, can simply not be allowed to get a nuclear weapon," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said.

Washington has said it wants EU states, Russia, and other powers to impose some initial sanctions on Iran if Tehran continues uranium enrichment.

Sanctions Vs. Diplomacy

It remains unclear how many of the EU states are ready to move from offering incentives to directly threatening reductions in trade. The EU's Solana said today that the EU wants to present its new incentives package to Iran simultaneously with a UN resolution calling on Tehran to halt uranium enrichment or expect consequences.

The nature of that resolution is now under discussion by the permanent five members of the Security Council.

The United States, Britain, and France have called for a resolution that declares Iran a threat to world peace -- terminology that could open the way to eventual sanctions. But Russia and China say they back only negotiations with Tehran as the way to end the nuclear crisis.

Representatives of the five permanent Security Council members are due to meet in London on May 19 for further talks.

What Would Sanctions Mean?

What Would Sanctions Mean?

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):
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THE COMPLETE STORY: RFE/RL's coverage of the controversy surrounding Iran's nuclear program.


An annotated timeline of Iran's nuclear program.