"There are two paths ahead. We urge Iran to take the positive path and to consider seriously our substantive proposals, which will bring significant benefits to Iran," British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said in announcing the accord in Vienna on June 1.
She was flanked by the U.S., French, Russian, Chinese, and German foreign ministers, as well as EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana.
Becket gave no details beyond the general outlines of the new international strategy.
"We are prepared to resume negotiations, should Iran resume the suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities as required by the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency], and we would also suspend action in the Security Council," she said. "We've also agreed that if Iran decides not to engage in negotiation, further steps would have to be taken in the Security Council."
The Carrots, Sticks
Diplomats at the Vienna talks told Western media privately that the incentives for Iran would include assistance for its commercial nuclear energy industry and guarantees of long-term foreign supplies of uranium fuel.
That would remove the need for Iran to produce its own uranium fuel through enrichment -- a process that can also be applied to making material for nuclear weapons.
Solana is expected to head a delegation to present the offer to Iran in the coming days. The diplomats say Tehran then would be given weeks, not months, to respond.
The foreign ministers in Vienna avoided speaking about any agreements they might have reached on taking punitive measures if Tehran does not comply.
However, the U.S. daily "The Washington Post" reported today that "possible sanctions in the agreement are listed as a menu, ranging from minor to major." The paper adds that is "unclear whether there was agreement on which options to choose if Iran fails to act."
Compromise Finally Reached
The accord comes after weeks of wrangling among the six UN powers over what to do about Iran's refusal to heed a nonbinding Security Council demand on March 29 to immediately halt all uranium-enrichment-related activities.
The disagreement has seen Western powers backing language for a proposed binding resolution that would open the way to possible sanctions if Iran remains in defiance of the world body.
But Russia and China have balked, saying the best way to win concessions from Iran is not through threats of punishment but through negotiations.
Now, the six powers appear to have reached compromises that, temporarily, at least, bridge their differences.
The Vienna accord closely follows a U.S. offer to join negotiations with Iran if Tehran suspends uranium enrichment. It also follows a reported U.S. concession to Moscow to remove any language from the proposed binding resolution that could be used to justify eventual military action against Iran.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov underlined the importance of these steps in uniting the UN powers on June 1. "It is fundamentally important that the offer of talks came from all six countries, including the Unites States, for whom it is not an easy step," he said. "I believe the United States hasn't had any relations with Iran for 26 years, if not more."
Tehran Lukewarm To Offer
It is too early to know how Iranian officials will respond to the new international package. Tehran earlier gave a mixed reaction to Washington's saying it was willing to join talks on the same precondition of Iran suspending uranium enrichment.
"We will not negotiate about our legal and clear rights. Whatever is the right of the Islamic republic and the Iranian nation, as determined by international treaties that we are a part of, we will not negotiate. We are ready to discuss our mutual concerns," Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said on June 1 prior to the Vienna accord.
Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has previously derided EU efforts to develop an incentive package. "They [the European Union] think they are dealing with a 4-year-old child, telling him they will give him a few walnuts or chocolate and take gold from him in return," he told a crowd in the Iranian city of Arak on May 17.
'Keeping Door Open'
Some analysts say that the new international offer may be a bid to encourage more flexible members of the Iranian establishment to press for negotiations despite such public statements.
"The fact that the U.S. government said for the first time that it is willing to have direct negotiations with Iran on the nuclear issue -- as opposed to Iraq, which they have said for some time that they are willing to talk about -- that is an important signal, I think," says nuclear expert Shannon Kile of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Sweden.
"And I suspect that they are trying to keep the door open, and they are trying to keep the door open especially for those elements inside the Iranian leadership that are pushing for rapprochement rather than confrontation, and I think that there are some individuals not connected to Ahmadinejad who would like to see some sort of diplomatic solution found," she adds.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has long rejected contacts with the United States and has publicly criticized any moderates who speak of eventual reconciliation.
However, he did not oppose Washington's offer of talks about Iraq. How he responds to the latest U.S.-backed international offer will now be a central question for the days ahead.
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]."
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