Iran Nuclear NewsIran to be offered deal over nuclear programme

Iran to be offered deal over nuclear programme

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The Times: Margaret Beckett, the new Foreign Secretary, agreed yesterday to prepare a package of incentives for Iran to curb its nuclear programme. The Times

From James Bone in New York

MARGARET BECKETT, the new Foreign Secretary, agreed yesterday to prepare a package of incentives for Iran to curb its nuclear programme.

Facing continued opposition from Russia and China to Britain’s call for a UN resolution depriving Iran of the legal right to enrich uranium, Mrs Beckett has ordered the incentive package to be ready by Monday.

John Sawers, the Foreign Office political director, will work with his French and German counterparts to prepare a list of ideas, including access to civil nuclear technology, trade and perhaps even security guarantees. These will be discussed on the margins of the next EU general affairs council.

The three European political directors will then meet officials from China, Russia and the United States in London on May 19. Philippe Douste-Blazy, the French Foreign Minister, was pushing for security guarantees, presumably from the United States. But US officials appeared reluctant to rule out military action against Iran.

British officials, for their part, suggested that the focus of the incentives package would be new European proposals offering Iran access to civilian nuclear power.

Looking weary, Mrs Beckett took her place at the top table of international diplomacy at a high-powered dinner and a string of bilateral meetings in New York with the foreign ministers of France, Germany, China, Russia and the United States.

“I’m flying by the seat of my pants but, I was told by one of my officials this morning, quite gracefully,” Mrs Beckett said. “It’s been interesting and stimulating and I’ve enjoyed it, but I like to see success at the end of my negotiations and we aren’t there yet,” she added. Russia and China continued to object to a proposed reference to the “enforcement provisions” of Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which could pave the way for sanctions or military action.

One compromise being explored was to cite only selected paragraphs from Chapter VII. But British officials said a vote was now unlikely until at least next week.

Throughout her two-day visit Mrs Beckett was peppered with questions about whether she differed on Iran with her predecessor, Jack Straw, who called a military strike “inconceivable” and the use of a nuclear bunker-buster “nuts”.

Mrs Beckett told reporters: “There is no intention to use military force. There is nothing whatsoever equivocal about what I say. I have deliberately chosen to use my own words.”

Mrs Beckett admitted that she was not as steeped in detail as her predecessor and would have liked more time to prepare. “It’s been a little hectic,” she said. “But it’s actually been a lot more straightforward than I thought in the sense that I went into a meeting that was just the foreign ministers on their own. I didn’t find any difficulty in taking my part in the conversation.”

She was, however, noticeably slow to react to the 18-page letter sent to President Bush on Monday by President Ahmadinejad — the first communication from an Iranian leader to a US President in 27 years.

Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, rejected the letter as offering “nothing new” and the White House said that there would be no reply.

But many hours later, Mrs Beckett said she had still not been able “to catch up with what people think it means or is intended to convey”.

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