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Incentives package prepared for Iran

The United States and four other veto-wielding states on the U.N. Security Council are preparing a package of incentives aimed at Iran's newly elected parliament in hopes of ending the country's uranium-enrichment program — the main impediment to improved ties between Iran and the West.

The proposal includes economic, technological and security benefits, spare parts for Iran's aging fleet of Boeing aircraft and help developing a civilian nuclear energy program, U.S. and European officials said yesterday.

The effort resembles a 2006 offer that Tehran rejected, prompting a series of U.N. sanctions.

This time, officials said, they will be more specific about the timing of the incentives. They also expressed hope it will persuade new members of parliament after elections Friday.

"It's not clear that the Iranian regime has transmitted to the Iranian people the details of the very generous and substantial offer that we made to them in 2006. In fact, it seems as though they have deliberately suppressed it," a British official said.

"So we are very keen on finding ways to ensure that the Iranian people know what is on offer to them, which is what their regime is denying them by their intransigence," he said.

A senior French official said the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — as well as Germany, "will try to be more precise about the timing and the advantages the Iranians could gain."

In the 2006 proposal, the six countries offered to provide Iran with nuclear energy, including a light-water reactor, partial ownership of a Russian enrichment facility and a five-year "buffer stock" of enriched uranium stored under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

They also said that, if Iran suspended enrichment, they would support its accession to the World Trade Organization and help modernize Iran's telecommunications infrastructure.

In addition, the Western powers plus China proposed "a new conference to promote dialogue and cooperation on regional security issues."

The 2006 proposal marked a reversal for U.S. policy, which until then opposed all Iranian efforts to develop nuclear energy, including a nuclear power plant that Russians were building in Bushehr.

The United States also offered to sell Iran spare parts for civilian aircraft and promised to begin reversing nearly three decades of unilateral sanctions and participate in negotiations with Tehran if it halted its uranium enrichment efforts.

The Iranian government rejected the package, and the Security Council has passed three sanctions resolutions since then.

Even though most reformist candidates who advocate ties to the West were not allowed to run in Friday's parliamentary elections, some of the new members are said to be unhappy with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The five nuclear powers plus Germany hope new lawmakers will be intrigued by the latest package of incentives.

"It could be very interesting to students to have technology cooperation between their country and Western countries," the French official said.

"It's a country where students can work on the Internet and are very well-informed about what's going on around the world. So let's try to use those channels to see how we can get the message through," he said.

U.S. and European officials said they are at the early stages of rethinking the proposal and referred to it as "repackaging" the 2006 offer.

Jon Wolfsthal, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that what the Iranians are most likely to look for in the proposal is "full and active U.S. participation."

"Last time, the Europeans pulled the U.S. in, but it was only interested in participating as a way to get the [permanent Security Council members] to agree to sanctions," he said. "They should make it as difficult as possible for Ahmadinejad to argue that the United States doesn't want a deal."

In a separate development, U.S. officials criticized a deal signed yesterday for Iran to supply Switzerland with natural gas. Details were not disclosed, but Iran reportedly will supply 5.5 billion cubic meters of gas annually beginning in 2011.

"We are disappointed, and will continue our discussions with the Swiss regarding the need to maintain pressure on Iran to meet its international obligations," the U.S. Embassy in Bern said.

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