Friday, June 02, 2006

ANALYSIS-U.S. move on Iran is win for EU, but risks remain

By Paul Taylor, European Affairs Editor
jun 1,2006
nuclear iran- The United States' policy shift in offering to join nuclear talks with Iran is a victory for European governments which have been trying to draw Washington into the process, but does not guarantee a successful outcome.

EU diplomats say that ever since Britain, France and Germany launched a diplomatic initiative in 2004 to offer Tehran incentives if it ended sensitive nuclear activities that could lead to atomic weapons, they aimed to involve the United States.

"We always knew that we couldn't achieve this alone and that when the time came, it could only work if the Americans got engaged," a European official involved in the diplomacy said.

"We have neither big enough carrots nor big enough sticks to persuade the Iranians, if they are open to persuasion at all."

Yet some senior European officials were taken by surprise by the timing of the dramatic announcement by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of U.S. willingness to join the Europeans at the table if Iran suspends uranium enrichment and reprocessing.

Washington has been consulting its closest allies for some time. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have visited the White House in the last five weeks and discussed Iran with President George W. Bush.

But according to one insider, the Europeans were given only a few hours' notice of the landmark decision, breaking with more than 25 years of frosty silence between Washington and Tehran.

"We wanted this and we argued behind the scenes that it would put us in a much stronger position with Iran. But I don't think we expected it now," the source said.

A European official who participated in the talks with Iran jokes that it often felt like attending a cocktail party where "your interlocutor was always looking over your shoulder to see if someone more important was standing behind you".

Now that bigger player is clearly visible and willing to join the party, albeit on tough terms.


CREDIBILITY IMPROVED

The United States was initially sceptical of the European initiative, although Bush gave it cautious backing on a visit to Brussels last year to mend fences after the Iraq war rift.

Rice's conditional offer of U.S. involvement strengthens the credibility of the improved package of technological, economic and political incentives that the Europeans plan to offer Iran with broad international backing.

These include a hi-tech nuclear reactor with a guaranteed fuel supply, which European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana has said Iran would have to accept if it is really serious about wanting only a civilian energy programme.

The U.S. move should also help secure Russian and Chinese backing for a binding U.N. Security Council resolution enjoining Tehran to suspend its enrichment programme and cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"In some ways, this is more about getting Security Council backing for the resolution than about Iran," another European diplomat said.

Tactically, it could strengthen the West's position in moving towards sanctions if, as expected, the Islamic Republic refuses to stop enrichment and rejects the European offer.

But many analysts believe transatlantic trouble still lies ahead if, as its initial reaction suggests, Iran says "No".

"If Iran rejects this package, then the problems start, and we'll see if it's possible to hold the coalition together," said Mark Leonard, director of foreign policy at the Centre for European Reform.

"The chances still are it's not going to work," he said, noting that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had gained popularity at home by taking a hard line on the nuclear issue.

Leonard, who has followed the EU-Iran negotiations closely, said even among European countries, there would be divisions over anything more than symbolic sanctions such as visa bans on officials involved in the nuclear programme.

"What the Americans are really interested in is an investment freeze. That is difficult to sell within Europe and even more difficult with Russia and China," he said.

EU countries with strong commercial interests in Iran such as Germany and Italy are reluctant to contemplate restricting economic ties with the world's fourth biggest oil producer and might cite the absence of explicit U.N. authority to hold back.

(additional reporting by Madeline Chambers in London)
source:reuters
posted by ali ghannadi-irannuk

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