Reuters: European officials have said they expect a quick U.S. decision — within days or weeks — on whether to support incentives for Iran to give up its suspected nuclear weapons programme. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice raised the issue on the sidelines of a Middle East conference and a senior U.S. official expected her to do so at a dinner Tuesday … Reuters
LONDON – European officials have said they expect a quick U.S. decision — within days or weeks — on whether to support incentives for Iran to give up its suspected nuclear weapons programme.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice raised the issue on the sidelines of a Middle East conference and a senior U.S. official expected her to do so at a dinner Tuesday with the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany, the so-called EU3 nations trying to negotiate a diplomatic solution.
After U.S. President George W. Bush briefed key congressmen on his European trip, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he “got the sense the president was prepared to put some more carrots on the table”.
Biden said Bush was, at the same time, trying to make sure the Europeans agreed on using “sticks” later in the process if those incentives failed.
The United States accuses Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of its civil nuclear program. Iran denies this, saying its nuclear program is peaceful and aims to produce power for its growing population.
Bush is close to deciding whether to join Europe in offering incentives, including membership of the World Trade Organisation, to Iran in exchange for its giving up nuclear weapons, U.S. officials said Monday.
It would mark a strategy shift for Bush, who resisted considering economic incentives for Iran to avoid being seen as rewarding bad behaviour and had been talking about taking Iran to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.
“We believe these (EU3) negotiations should be given every chance (to succeed),” French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier told reporters, saying the EU3 needed U.S. support on WTO entry and on trade generally with Iran to help strike a deal.
Barnier said he expected Bush to make a decision “in the coming weeks … the coming days.”
Reporters who attended a briefing with European Union Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana said he spoke of “good vibrations” from the United States on the issue and also hoped to have a U.S. decision in coming weeks. Solana was also to have dinner with Rice and the EU3 foreign ministers.
Rice said there was no timetable for a decision, telling reporters: “I think we still need to explore, we need to discuss and see how we can come further together, perhaps even on support for the EU discussions with the Iranians.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican, said Bush is “on the same page” with European leaders.
Asked about European proposals for incentives, Lugar said: “It seems to me the president is fully cognizant with their demands and their hopes, and we’re going to be supportive of that. We hope they’ll be supportive of us.”
Biden described a shift in Bush’s thinking on Iran.
“The president is seized with the idea that unless Europe and the United States are on the same page — both in terms of carrots and sticks — that nothing reasonably can be done in terms of negotiations,” Biden said.