- The Washington Times - Monday, May 15, 2006

BRUSSELS — The European Union will support an Iranian nuclear program that cannot be put to military use and is prepared to boost political and economic cooperation if Tehran accepts international oversight, a top official said yesterday.

EU foreign ministers meeting yesterday considered a package of enhanced incentives to induce Tehran to stop uranium enrichment, which many experts see as the first step toward a nuclear bomb.

“We are prepared to work on a cooperation package and support Iran’s development of a proliferation-proof civilian nuclear program,” Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said after the meeting.

She said the European Union’s new plan would contain three elements — economic assistance, political cooperation and support for a civilian nuclear program.

But the European Union remains deeply concerned by Iran’s failure to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, she said.

“The intention is not to push Iran into further isolation, but to find a way to bring Iran back to a negotiating track,” Mrs. Plassnik said. “But we will also look at measures to be taken should Iran continue to reject this course.”

The foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels came just a day after hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rejected any incentive package that would require Tehran to stop enriching uranium.

The European Union said it supports a U.N. Security Council resolution that would require Iran to halt enrichment activities and to suspend construction of a heavy water research reactor that could be the source of plutonium for nuclear weapons.

Tehran has repeatedly asserted that its nuclear program, which includes uranium enrichment, is aimed only at generating civilian power. But the United States, Israel and the European Union fear it is a cover for the development of nuclear weapons.

Iran rejected an earlier EU package of economic and political incentives offered last August in return for an end to uranium enrichment. But EU governments have continued to offer sweeteners while pushing the United Nations for measures that could lead to sanctions if Iran balks.

The European Union hopes that an enhanced offer could help persuade Iran to comply with the demands, even as Russia and China resist European and American efforts for tougher U.N. Security Council action that could lead to sanctions or, if necessary, military action.

EU officials have said a final proposal could be hammered out in time for a meeting of nonproliferation officials from the five permanent Security Council nations Friday in London.

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