The British, French, and German foreign ministers appear to have met with success in their talks with Iranian officials in Tehran today. The negotiations were aimed at convincing Iran to meet an 31 October deadline to prove to the International Atomic Energy Agency that it is not developing nuclear weapons.
Prague, 21 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Ten days before a deadline set by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin announced today in Tehran that Iran has agreed to full cooperation with the UN's nuclear watchdog.
The secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Hasan Rowhani, said Iran will suspend its uranium enrichment activities and sign an additional protocol to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty that would give inspectors expanded access to nuclear sites.
Today's mission to Tehran by the British, French, and German foreign ministers thus appears to have achieved its goal of getting Tehran to meet tough conditions set by the IAEA.
The IAEA has given the Tehran authorities until 31 October to hand over documentary evidence of their country's entire nuclear program and furnish proof that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapons program.
The IAEA's ultimatum came after inspectors found trace samples of enriched uranium at nuclear sites in Iran, raising questions about the direction of the country's atomic program, which Iranian leaders maintain is strictly civilian.
IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming, in a telephone interview with RFE/RL from the organization's Vienna headquarters, reiterated what is expected from Tehran: "What is expected from Iran in the next several days, up until the 31st of October, is a full disclosure of their past nuclear activities related to their nuclear program, in all areas. As you've probably seen, there have been a number of questions raised from IAEA inspectors, through intense investigation over the last several months. These questions need to be answered to the satisfaction of the international community."
Iran's failure to comply could lead the IAEA's board of governors -- when it meets again at the end of November -- to refer the case to the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions.
Today's commitment by Iran to sign and ratify the IAEA's Additional Protocol on inspections, if fulfilled, will be seen as a significant milestone and a victory for European diplomacy. France, Britain, and Germany have sought to contrast their approach of constructive engagement toward Tehran with that of the U.S., which has labeled Iran as part of an "axis of evil."
The Additional Protocol, approved by the IAEA's board of governors in 1997, has been ratified by some 30 countries so far, including all 15 members of the European Union. It gives IAEA monitors expanded access to both declared and suspected nuclear facilities in a particular country, at short notice.
The IAEA is not demanding that Iran sign the protocol by 31 October, when Tehran is supposed to make its report to the UN body. But as Fleming tells RFE/RL, the nuclear watchdog does expect Tehran to sign and ratify the protocol as soon as possible.
"Signing the additional protocol is extremely important for the future. It is not required by the 31st of October. However, the board did say [it wanted] the immediate signature and then subsequently ratification and implementation of the protocol. So the expectation is that it happen quickly. But what they're looking for as a priority is this full disclosure of information. We need to first verify the past and then we need to be able to control the future. And controlling the future means that we have to have an additional protocol in place," Fleming said.
The European Union as a bloc is Iran's biggest trading partner, with a $13 billion annual trade turnover. Britain, France, and Germany are the EU's largest economies, so this factor is certain to have played a role in today's negotiations.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, speaking this morning in Tehran, also stressed his country's long-term commitment to dialogue with Tehran: "The discussions which I have had over the past two-and-a-half years in Tehran, in London, and elsewhere with [Iranian Foreign Minister] Kamal Kharrazi and other members of the Iranian government have been constructive, even if they have sometimes been tough."
With the stick of potential UN sanctions poised over Iran, the German, French, and British foreign ministers offered a carrot today to Tehran.
Diplomats from the three countries say the three foreign ministers told Iranian officials that if Tehran signs and ratifies the Additional Protocol and complies with IAEA demands, Britain, France, and Germany could be prepared to assist Iran in its civilian nuclear power sector.
At the moment, Russia -- which is building Iran's first commercial nuclear power station at Bushehr -- is Tehran's only nuclear partner.
It is not known how the United States -- which has repeatedly pressured Moscow to renege on the Bushehr deal -- will view British, French, or German involvement in Iran's atomic power program.