- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 3, 2006

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy welcomed U.S. willingness to join in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear issue. Could it be the European’s political maneuvering has managed to convince the Bush administration to follow the peaceful road to negotiations rather than carry a big stick?

The talks aimed at convincing Iran to give up its nuclear quest in return for incentives — such as financial and trade incentives — were instituted by Germany, the United Kingdom and France to try and find a peaceful way out of the current crisis with Iran. “This strengthens the credibility of the European approach and the proposals that the Europeans want to present to Iran with the international community’s support,” said a communique from the French foreign minister.

The meeting Thursday in Vienna, Austria, will provide an opportunity to come up with an agreement that offers Iran a way to resume negotiations. “The proposals we plan to put forward on this occasion will be substantial, thanks notably to a strengthened commitment on the part of our partners,” said the communique. “We hope that the Iranian authorities will take the time needed to examine these proposals and follow up on them in a constructive spirit,” said Mr. Douste-Blazy.

In a staggering turnaround of U.S. policy regarding the Islamic Republic, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said it was now up to the Iranians to decide which road to take. Miss Rice said the United States was willing to sit down with Iranian representatives.

“The negative choice,” she said, would be for Iran to continue pursuing development of nuclear weapons in defiance of the international community’s opposition. “If the regime does so, it will incur only great costs. We and our European partners agree — that path will lead to international isolation and progressively stronger political and economic sanctions.”

“Positive and constructive choice,” Miss Rice said, would be for Iran to cooperate in trying to find a solution to the nuclear issue. The Islamic republic would have to immediately suspend all uranium enrichment and reprocessing, and allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to verify Tehran is cooperating to the fullest.

“This path would lead to the real benefit and longer-term security of the Iranian people, the region, and the world as a whole.” Iran cannot keep secrets, said Miss Rice. She agreed Iran has a “right to civilian nuclear energy.” Miss Rice said there was unanimous agreement among the international community that Iran must not acquire nuclear weapons, adding the United States “is making every effort to achieve a successful diplomatic outcome.”

She said U.S. negotiators will meet with Iran’s representatives and the EU-3 (Germany, France and Britain) “as soon as Iran fully and verifiably suspends its enrichment and reprocessing activities.” Miss Rice said she conveyed that message to Iran Wednesday morning through the Swiss government and Iran’s representative to the United Nations.

According to Miss Rice, President Bush “wants a positive relationship between the American people and the people of Iran” on education, culture, sports, trade and investment.

Not everyone is happy with this new proposal. The Iranian opposition sees the State Department proposal sending Tehran the wrong signal. “It would be interpreted as evidence of a sign of weakness,” Alireza Jafarzadeh, president of Strategic Policy Consulting, told United Press International. In 2002, as representative of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, he revealed the existence of two major nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak.

“Instead of offering Tehran a package of incentives, rather,” says Mr. Jafarzadeh, “it should be a package of decisive measures and punishment for Tehran.” He says, “Incentives were offered three years ago and the European Union-3 started negotiations with Tehran, but Tehran has consistently rejected their proposals. The U.N. Security Council made a similar demand for Iran to freeze its nuclear program. Iran rejected that.

This new offer to renegotiate with Tehran only emboldens the Islamic Republic, giving it more time to develop its nuclear weapons program. “Instead of reaching out to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the United States needs to strike at the Achilles’ heels of the ayatollahs,” says Mr. Jafarzadeh.

Having convinced the Bush administration, the Europeans might have a harder time convincing the Iranian opposition.

Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.


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