Friday, October 15, 2004

The Bush administration yesterday refused to back away from its demand that Iran be referred to the U.N. Security Council over its nuclear program next month, even as European allies said they will offer Tehran a deal next week.

The European Union will present Iran with one last chance to suspend its effort to enrich uranium, which can be used to make atomic bombs, in exchange for economic and trade benefits, diplomats said after an eight-nation meeting at the State Department.

“The EU-three indicated they will be presenting their idea to Iran next week,” State Department spokesman Tom Casey said in reference to Britain, Germany and France, which have taken the lead on the Iran nuclear issue.

The benefits package would include access to imported nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes, as well as lifting of some EU economic penalties and opening of trade opportunities with the Islamic republic.

“The United States listened carefully to the EU-three explanations of their approach, and the EU-three agreed to inform us of the results of their efforts,” Mr. Casey said.

But he said the Bush administration continued to insist that, at its next meeting on Nov. 25, the board of governors of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) should send the case to the Security Council.

“The United States has long made clear its views that Iran’s confirmed non-compliance with safeguard obligations must be reported by the IAEA board to the U.N. Security Council,” Mr. Casey said.

At its last meeting in September, the board gave Iran until Nov. 25 to suspend the uranium-enrichment program.

European officials said at yesterday’s meeting that they still hope to convince Tehran to comply before the deadline.

“The U.S. position is a bit different from ours,” a senior European diplomat said after the State Department session with officials from the Group of Eight (G-8) — the United States, Britain, Japan, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Russia.

“No government changed its position today,” he added.

The three-hour meeting ended without a statement or decision.

“We did not decide on a new course of action,” a U.S. official said.

The administration did not endorse the EU’s benefits package. Even though U.S. officials said they told the Europeans to “go ahead” with it, they did not hide their belief that Tehran will not comply.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said earlier this week that the European Union cannot force Iran to give up its right to enrich uranium.

“It is wrong for them to think they can, through negotiations, force Iran to stop enrichment,” he told a conference in Tehran. “Iran will never give up its right to enrichment.”

But diplomats at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria, were quoted by Reuters news agency yesterday as saying that Iran may be willing to comply if, along with a long list of benefits, it receives an assurance that it will not be attacked.

Diplomats said such a guarantee was not discussed at the G-8 meeting, where the United States was represented by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.

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