EU offers to back Iran’s civil nuclear program if Iranians don’t try to make weapons
LONDON – European diplomats on Friday sought to entice Iran into a binding commitment not to build atomic arms by offering to provide fuel and other long-term support to help Iranians generate electricity with nuclear energy.The Bush administration backed the offer, which came as a diplomatic effort to persuade North Korea into giving up its atomic weapons program stalled.The proposal to Iran came from Britain, France and Germany, which are representing the European Union. They also offered greater economic, political and security cooperation if the Tehran government agrees to the plan.Iran has long claimed its nuclear program is solely for the peaceful production of electricity, while Washington charges the real aim was to produce arms. The discovery of clandestine aspects of Iran’s program raised worries among other nations and pressures have mounted on Iran.The U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, announced it would hold an emergency meeting Tuesday to formally warn Iran not to resume uranium enrichment at its plant in Isfahan. The IAEA board could refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council for consideration of sanctions.Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said the EU proposal, presented by ambassadors from the three European countries in Tehran, would be studied “today and tomorrow” and a response would be issued “soon.”In Paris, a French diplomat said European negotiators wanted an Iranian response by the end of August. The official, who briefed reporters on condition he not be named, said, “They can choose elements of it and make other proposals, and we are totally ready to consider them.”In Washington, a State Department official said the United States believed diplomacy was the best way to resolve the faceoff with Iran.”We encourage Iran to consider positively the EU’s offer to continue to observe the Paris agreement and to refrain from taking steps that would violate the agreement such as breaking the IAEA seals at Isfahan and restarting uranium conversion,” said the State Department’s acting spokesman, Tom Casey.The Europeans have been pressing Iran to abandon uranium enrichment, which it voluntarily suspended in November. Uranium enriched to low levels can be used as fuel in nuclear reactors to generate electricity, but further enrichment makes it suitable for a nuclear bomb.Iran insists it has a right to enrich uranium under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.According to a summary of the EU proposal obtained by The Associated Press, the Europeans acknowledge Iran’s right to nuclear energy and promise to help it develop “a safe, economically viable and proliferation-proof civil nuclear power generation and research program.”The 34-page proposal promises Iran a long-term supply of enriched uranium from other countries, on condition spent fuel is returned. Iran also would be able to buy peaceful nuclear technology, opening the door to such deals as Russia’s $800 million contract to build a reactor in the southern Iranian port city of Bushehr and supply fuel.In return, the Europeans call on Iran to make a “legally binding commitment not to withdraw” from the nuclear treaty, as North Korea did, and to agree to permit surprise inspections by the IAEA and abandon all uranium activities, including conversion, enrichment and reprocessing.The EU nations also say Iran must “stop construction of its heavy water research reactor at Arak.” Nuclear experts consider heavy water reactors a danger because they use higher-grade plutonium suitable for weapons use. They say the reactor at the Iranian city of Arak can yield enough plutonium from spent fuel to make one atomic bomb a year.Meanwhile, six-nation disarmament talks involving North Korea reached an impasse over Washington’s insistence that the Pyongyang regime should not be allowed to keep any nuclear program that might be converted to making weapons.North Korea insists it has the right to “peaceful nuclear activities.” But it has said it could rejoin the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and let in international inspectors if the talks in Beijing are successful.Francois Gere, president of the French Institute of Strategic Analysis, questioned whether the model proposed by the Europeans for Iran would work for North Korea.”North Korea can very likely explode a bomb in a few months. Iran is five years, maybe 10 years, from that capability,” Gere said.