Tuesday, May 16, 2006

EU powers to offer Iran reactor for atom deal: sources

ABC News:


May 16, 2006 — By Louis Charbonneau

BERLIN - The EU's three biggest powers plan to offer Iran a light-water nuclear reactor as part of a package of incentives if Tehran agrees to freeze its uranium enrichment program, EU diplomats said on Tuesday.

They said they would be very surprised if Iran accepted -- but would take a rejection as confirmation that its nuclear program does not solely aim at generation for peaceful ends. The United States and EU accuse Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian atomic energy program, a charge Tehran denies.

A European Union diplomat said political directors from the "EU3" -- Britain, France and Germany -- and the office of EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana would discuss the proposal with U.S., Russian and Chinese counterparts in London on Friday.

"The EU3 and Solana are planning an offer of a European light-water reactor to Iran in return for a suspension of its enrichment program," the diplomat, familiar with the negotiations on Iran, told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Nuclear experts say light-water reactors are more difficult to use for weapons purposes than heavy-water plants.

The EU trio first proposed offering Iran light-water technology in 2005, after two years of negotiations. At the time, the Iranians said the offer lacked specific incentives. SLIM PROSPECTS

EU diplomats said the new offer would be more specific, partly because they were confident of full U.S. support.

But they made clear they saw little prospect that Iran would accept, and were aiming above all to demonstrate to skeptics such as Russia and China that the West was not trying to deprive Iran of civilian nuclear energy.

"No one believes that this reactor will be built, because Iran will say 'No'," an EU diplomat said, adding that a European reactor would be much more expensive for the Iranians than the $1 billion Russian plant currently under construction.

Even so, the United States, which has taken the toughest line against Iran, was at best grudging in its backing.

U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton said he would not comment on the reactor idea but that the package had to include sticks as well as carrots -- "not half a package."

One U.S. official who deals with non-proliferation issues added: "Why should we be aiding and abetting their program?

"They are going to forge ahead with their nuclear weapons program. I think this is just an effort to see whether the Iranians say 'Yes' -- but they are not going to. Our position is going to be one of not a whole lot of enthusiasm."

According to a confidential EU document obtained on Tuesday by Reuters, the bloc is also considering an array of economic and political sanctions, including travel bans on Iranian officials, curtailing diplomatic ties, trade sanctions and the freezing of assets of Iranian companies and officials.


China's Foreign Ministry declared its support for what it expected to be a broad European offer of incentives.

But China and Russia are opposed to an EU-backed U.N. Security Council resolution that could penalize Iran if it continues sensitive nuclear development.

"We should not isolate Iran nor put pressure on Iran," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after meeting Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing in Beijing.

Iran again insisted it would pursue enrichment.

"Iran's decision to preserve this right is definite and irreversible," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said.

After three years of investigation, the IAEA says it still cannot confirm that Iran's nuclear program is entirely peaceful, but has found no proof of a military program.

Iran's Asefi appeared to dismiss the latest EU package in advance, saying no incentive was required beyond implementing the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The NPT says signatories may research, develop and produce nuclear fuel for peaceful use.

But Western officials say Iran must prove its aims are peaceful before it can enjoy this right, after concealing an enrichment research program for 18 years until it was disclosed by an opposition exile group.

(Additional reporting by Jon Boyle in Paris, Evelyn Leopold at the United Nations and Carol Giacomo in Washington)


Post a Comment

<< Home