Tempting Tehran

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TIME Magazine: On one subject, at least, Europe and the U.S. are united: neither wants Iran to get the bomb. But officials on both sides of the Atlantic are pessimistic about a deal with Tehran that could prevent it from developing the capacity to build a nuclear weapon. “We’re giving it another try, but there’s
a lot of skepticism,” says one European diplomat. TIME Magazine

By J.F.O. MCALLISTER

On one subject, at least, Europe and the U.S. are united: neither wants Iran to get the bomb. But officials on both sides of the Atlantic are pessimistic about a deal with Tehran that could prevent it from developing the capacity to build a nuclear weapon. “We’re giving it another try, but there’s a lot of skepticism,” says one European diplomat. After G-8 members met last week to devise a package of inducements and threats, reports emerged that Britain, France and Germany would offer Tehran new trade talks and access to Russian nuclear fuel, if the country halted its nuclear ambitions. Tehran appeared to reject the move. The Europeans had hoped their agreement with Iran last year to cease work on uranium enrichment — Tehran says it’s for peaceful purposes — might lead to rapprochement. But “every time we went, there was another lie,” says the diplomat. Meanwhile, buildings in Iraq full of equipment useful for making atomic bombs have been “systematically dismantled” since the U.S.-led invasion, according to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). A Western diplomat familiar with the report says the theft includes “equipment that would be useful for spare parts for a nuclear program in a country under sanctions, such as Iran.”

Europe really doesn’t have much to offer Tehran for good behavior. Most European countries are trading with Iran already, evidenced by last month’s reported €3.25 billion agreement by Spanish and Anglo-Dutch oil concerns to exploit Iran’s natural gas reserves. Saeed Laylaz, a reformist analyst in Tehran, says only an end to U.S. sanctions and admission to the World Trade Organization might tempt the regime — something the U.S. is unlikely to support.

Without a breakthrough, it’s likely the IAEA will refer Iran next month to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions. Some diplomats are worried about what they call their nightmare scenario: an air strike by Israel against Iran’s nuclear facilities, to which Washington would acquiesce, inflaming anti-U.S. feeling among Muslims. Says a British official: “There’s worry that a crisis is looming.” On that grim prospect there is also wide agreement.

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