New York Times: Bush administration officials said on Wednesday that the package of incentives offered to Iran could theoretically allow it to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes someday, but expressed severe doubts that Iran could satisfy the conditions that would allow it to do so. The New York Times
By HELENE COOPER and ELAINE SCIOLINO
WASHINGTON, June 7 Bush administration officials said on Wednesday that the package of incentives offered to Iran could theoretically allow it to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes someday, but expressed severe doubts that Iran could satisfy the conditions that would allow it to do so.
The decision to leave that possibility open amounts to a significant shift in United States policy, because President Bush has repeatedly said that he would not allow Iran to produce nuclear fuel or to gain the knowledge necessary to build a weapon. He has insisted that all nuclear fuel for Iranian power production come from outside Iran.
But when questioned on the terms of the international proposal that the United States and its negotiating partners had offered, officials said that it would be years if ever before the question of allowing Iran to produce fuel would even come up.
The State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, said that suspension of Iran’s uranium enrichment activities, which the United States contends are a cover for developing nuclear arms, is a firm condition of the offer from the major powers. “That condition would have to hold throughout the duration of any potential negotiations,” he said, referring to talks aimed at bringing Iran into compliance with international nuclear controls.
In addition to suspending its enrichment of uranium indefinitely, Iran would have to receive a seal of approval from the International Atomic Energy Agency confirming that it had no undeclared nuclear facilities or secret nuclear programs, and that it had answered a long list of outstanding questions, European diplomats and senior Bush administration officials said. Such criteria alone in recent years took Japan five years to accomplish.
Diplomats and Bush administration officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the terms of the offer had not been made public.
The package provides a mechanism for re-examining the suspension of Iran’s nuclear activities after the atomic energy agency confirms that all outstanding issues have been resolved, European diplomats and senior Bush administration officials said. It does not provide for a mechanism to lift the suspension, however.
That formula was designed to give the six powers the United States, Britain, Russia, France and China, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany complete control over any decision to allow Iran to proceed with some enrichment. “The package does not say that if the I.A.E.A. gives Iran a clean bill of health that it will be the end of the moratorium,” said one senior European official. “It simply means we will re-examine it.”
Asked whether the United States had softened its position, the official said, “This is a small conceptual step because they accept the notion that someday in some circumstances maybe in 30 years when the mullahs disappear there could be the end of a moratorium.”
The diplomats said the foreign ministers reached an understanding not included in the package that Iran’s program would have to go to the Security Council for a vote before uranium enrichment could continue. That means the United States would have a veto.
In addition, the package calls for Iran to prove economic justification for its nuclear program, a complicated process that would probably take more than 10 years.
“It means they’re not getting there anytime soon,” said Robert J. Einhorn, assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation under President Bill Clinton. Mr. Einhorn called the American decision a “wise move and a tactical shift” because it acknowledged Iran’s right to enrichment in the future, an important psychological and diplomatic concession.
During the negotiations over the package, China and Russia contended that it should contain some commitment that would allow Iran to have limited enrichment capability during the moratorium, the senior officials said. The Russians and Chinese did not offer a specific counterproposal. But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Europeans said it would be dangerous to make such a concession to Iran.
In another sign of discord, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said on Wednesday that Russia would support penalties against Iran in the Security Council only if Iran were in clear violation of its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
“Any measures which may be backed by Russia at the Security Council will exclusively apply to the situation whereby Iran begins to act in breach of its obligations based on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty,” Mr. Lavrov said. “There are no discussions in the U.N. Security Council with regard to sanctions on Iran at present.”
Critics of the incentives for Iran say that they could send the United States down a slippery slope that could eventually lead to a nuclear Iran. The package contains a commitment from the six nations to back Iran’s plan for a nuclear energy program for civilian use, including building light-water reactors in projects with other countries. But such a move would be subject to approval by Congress.
“Apparently Tehran has gone from being a charter member of the ‘Axis of Evil’ to the newest market for the Bush administration’s nuclear salesmen,” said Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts. “Unless President Bush is now willing to take Iran off the list of state sponsors of terrorism, he cannot legally ship a nuclear reactor to Iran.”
Helene Cooper reported from Washington for this article, and Elaine Sciolino from Paris. David E. Sanger contributed reporting from Washington.