Europeans Work on New Anti-Nuclear Deal for Iran

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 10, 2006

UNITED NATIONS, May 9 -- Britain, France and Germany said Tuesday that they are preparing a package of fresh incentives for Iran -- including affordable energy and greater trade with the West -- that would be granted if Tehran resumed negotiations on its nuclear program and agreed to halt the enrichment of nuclear fuel.

The initiative announced Tuesday -- and the fact that it was backed by the United States -- reflected the Bush administration's inability to persuade Security Council members Russia and China to back a United Nations resolution that takes a tougher line with Iran, including an implicit threat of sanctions.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held a dinner meeting Monday night with Security Council members in another attempt to gain agreement on a more forceful approach. But diplomats said Moscow remains strenuously opposed on grounds that such a resolution could lead to military action.

The latest diplomacy is expected to delay for at least two weeks the U.S. effort to secure a U.N. resolution, according to diplomats. European negotiators plan to work in coming days to fashion a package of diplomatic carrots and sticks, including inducements for Iran to halt its nuclear activities as well as the prospect of sanctions if it does not.

Iran maintains that its nuclear program is aimed only at producing energy, but the United States and European nations suspect Tehran intends to develop nuclear weapons.

Rice endorsed the new approach, and Tuesday she appealed to Iran to "return to the negotiating table."

"I would just like to say to the people of Iran: Obviously, if there is a way for Iran to accept the will of the international community, to accept proposals for civil nuclear power, this is the time for Iran to take that possibility, because no one wants to isolate the Iranian people," she said. Iran made no public reply, and calls to its U.N. mission were not returned.

The new diplomatic course was set at the United Nations one day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent a letter to President Bush, in which he assailed U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan and the abuse of detainees. The Iranian leader suggested that Bush's policies are contrary to his Christian values.

The Bush administration dismissed the letter, which was laced with religious references, as philosophical musings that provide no opening for diplomacy.

Tuesday, Bush told an audience in Sun City Center, Fla., that he remains committed to exhausting all diplomatic options to resolve the Iranian crisis.

"I've made the tough decision to commit American troops into harm's way," Bush said. "It's the toughest decision a president can ever make. But I want you to know that I tried diplomacy. In other words, the president has got to be able to say to the American people diplomacy didn't work."

Rice insisted Tuesday that the Security Council is in "total agreement on the view that Iran cannot be allowed to have a nuclear weapon." She added, "Let's just give the diplomacy a little time to work."

European diplomats said they hope that, by offering Iran rewards for cooperation, they can persuade Russia and China to approve tougher action if Tehran continues to refuse. British and other European diplomats have argued for months that new negotiations with Iran are required to break the standoff in the council.

They have faced resistance from the Bush administration's sharpest critics of engagement with Tehran. On Monday, U.N. Ambassador John R. Bolton questioned the virtue of negotiations with Iran, saying that diplomatic initiatives by European nations and Russia over the past three years have not restrained Iran's nuclear program. But on Tuesday, he conceded it is worth making a fresh effort to maintain a common approach to Iran in the Security Council.

After European negotiators come up with proposed incentives for Iran, they are to present them to European Union foreign ministers in Brussels as early as Monday, diplomats said. The package would then be presented to the United States, Russia and China.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told French reporters Monday night that it would offer an "ambitious package" of incentives, which would expand commercial ties to Iran, ensure Iran's energy needs were met and preserve Iran's right to develop nuclear energy. In exchange, Iran would be required to provide verifiable assurances that its energy program is not a cover for building atomic bombs.

G ermany's U.N. ambassador, Gunter Pleuger, said Tuesday that the decision to offer new incentives reflects a recognition by the United States and European nations that "we use both the Security Council and the negotiating table, because if we draw everything into the council, we will not achieve anything."

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