Los Angeles Times: In what would mark a key shift in U.S. strategy, President Bush is considering joining European
allies in offering Iran incentives to halt its nuclear programs
that could be used to make weapons, U.S. officials said Monday. Los Angeles Times
Bush and advisors have discussed joining European allies to offer Tehran incentives to freeze program that could yield weapons.
By Sonni Efron and Alissa J. Rubin
WASHINGTON In what would mark a key shift in U.S. strategy, President Bush is considering joining European allies in offering Iran incentives to halt its nuclear programs that could be used to make weapons, U.S. officials said Monday.
Various incentives, including dropping U.S. objections to Iran’s joining the World Trade Organization, were discussed by Bush’s closest national security advisors at a meeting Friday after the president returned from a four-day trip to Europe, officials said. The administration is also considering providing spare parts for Iran’s aging commercial airline fleet or even allowing commercial aircraft sales to Tehran.
No decisions have been made, however. If U.S. officials did agree to drop their objection to Iranian membership in the WTO, it would want short-term concessions from Iran in return, a State Department official said.
“People are thinking: Is there a way we can get something for it in the immediate term instead of just an atmosphere of goodwill from the Iranians?” the official said. “We may not get it. The sole reward may be getting a better relationship with the Europeans on Iran in general.”
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan was noncommittal about how far the president was prepared to go to engage the theocratic Iranian regime, which Bush once labeled part of an “axis of evil.”
“The president is considering ideas that were discussed last week in Europe for moving forward on our efforts to get Iran to end its pursuit of nuclear weapons and abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions,” McClellan said.
For nearly two years, the Bush administration has argued that Iran should not be rewarded with economic and political incentives to abide by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which it has signed. U.S. officials have refused to endorse or take part in negotiations by Britain, France and Germany, which are offering economic incentives in exchange for Tehran’s permanently halting its uranium-enrichment program.
Enriched uranium can be used as fuel in nuclear power plants or in weapons. Tehran insists that its nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes, but U.S. officials suspect the country is secretly aiming to build atomic weapons.
Before Bush’s visit to Europe, Britain, Germany and France warned that no deal could be reached with the Iranians without at least tacit U.S. support. They said that by refusing to support the negotiations, Washington was undermining them, and they even accused some Bush administration officials of seeking to make the talks fail to justify military action against Iran.
The European nations have acknowledged that the negotiations may fail because Iran may be determined to become a nuclear-armed state. However, they have argued that the United States should do everything possible to try to reach a diplomatic solution.
During Bush’s visit to Europe, both French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder asked Bush to reconsider his position. He agreed to think about it, U.S. and European officials said.
European diplomats said they believed that the proposal to offer Iran incentives was under serious consideration and hoped a U.S.-European agreement would be reached soon.
“We are very satisfied that the U.S. president, when he was in Europe, has told us that we can expect support for the European negotiations,” German Embassy spokeswoman Martina Nibbeling-Wriessnig said. “There are talks [underway”> about the ways in which the U.S. could support it.”
French Embassy spokeswoman Nathalie Loiseaux was similarly upbeat. “It’s positive signals, they come at the right moment, and it makes us optimistic,” she said. “But we know that it’s not going to be easy [dealing”> with Iran.”
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to discuss details when she meets with the foreign ministers of Britain, Germany and France in London this week, the diplomats said.
The State Department official said Bush had been reassured by European leaders that they shared the U.S. view of Iran’s intention to build nuclear weapons, and agreed that the negotiations were likely to fail.
The message from the Europeans, according to the official, was: “The Iranians have not shown a lot of goodwill and there’s a good chance that this is likely to fail. The problem is you are going to be blamed for the failure unless you make an effort that looks like you are supporting our effort.”
Until now, the official said, the U.S. thinking was that “we were playing good-cop, bad-cop, with the U.S. being the bad cop. Now the idea is we both better be playing with the same carrots and sticks.”
U.S. officials have been trying to have Iran brought before the U.N. Security Council for what it says are its violations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. But the U.S. so far has lacked the votes at the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, to force the issue to the council. It also lacks the votes on the Security Council to impose sanctions against Iran.
At a quarterly board meeting of the IAEA in Vienna on Monday, Mohamed ElBaradei, the agency’s director, said serious questions remained about whether Iran was hiding information on its nuclear program. Iran’s failure to give the agency information and access to facilities in a timely manner, he said, had created a “confidence deficit.”
IAEA inspectors have found no evidence of a weapons program in Iran in nearly two years of looking, but they say a number of questions remain about the country’s activities.
The meeting came amid reports from diplomatic sources that as much as 18 years ago Iran was considering buying technology that could be used to produce nuclear weapons. According to diplomats, suppliers offered Iran an extensive selection of technology, but the Iranians said they did not purchase it. Information about the offer was recently disclosed to the IAEA.
“Iran showed us for the first time this offer they had, and that is good,” ElBaradei told reporters. “But we still obviously have a lot of work to do to make sure that they only got what they told us they got out of this offer.”
A diplomat who monitors Iran said another key question is whether Iran is currently cleaning up the Parchin complex, a military site near Tehran where some experts believe Iran has been experimenting with nuclear material.
IAEA inspectors who tried to examine Parchin recently were allowed only limited access and were able to do only a small amount of the environmental sampling they had hoped to perform.
The IAEA has requested a return visit but no date has been set. The diplomat said it appeared that Iran was trying to decontaminate the site before a return visit by the IAEA.
Efron reported from Washington and Rubin from Vienna.