- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2006

The top American diplomat at the U.N. nuclear watchdog held out little hope yesterday that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will give up programs that could lead to the development of a nuclear weapon.

“We shouldn’t fool ourselves. The president of Iran is not someone who is swayed by normal diplomatic demarches,” said Ambassador Greg Schulte, U.S. representative to the Vienna, Austria-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

But Mr. Schulte, speaking to reporters and analysts during a Washington visit, said that there also were divisions within Iran’s ruling Islamic regime over Tehran’s nuclear confrontation, and that the United States and its allies must give Iran a clear path to back down.

Although the hard-line Iranian president “wants a crisis,” the U.S. government and its negotiating partners “have to make clear to him and to the leadership that there is a better path to take,” Mr. Schulte said.

Diplomats from Germany and the five U.N. Security Council permanent powers — the United States, France, Britain, Russia and China — are expected to gather again next week in Europe to try to agree on a package of carrots and sticks designed to induce Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said yesterday.

Envoys from Canada, Italy and Japan are expected to join the negotiations.

U.S. officials said that a meeting Wednesday in London produced progress on the outlines of an offer to Tehran, but that more talks were needed. The package of incentives and sanctions is designed to get Tehran to halt uranium enrichment, which can lead to the production of either electrical power or a nuclear bomb.

Last night, President Bush said he would consider providing incentives to Iran if it agreed to resume a suspension on nuclear-enrichment activities that the United States thinks is aimed at producing nuclear weapons.

Mr. Bush, at a White House press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, said the two leaders spent a lot of time discussing strategy on how to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis.

Iran insists its programs are solely for peaceful civilian energy needs, but the IAEA’s 35-nation board has found that Tehran has refused to cooperate on inspection and verification programs needed to validate those claims.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, who briefed top Bush administration officials this week, will update IAEA board members at a June 12 meeting in Vienna on Iran’s cooperation, Mr. Schulte said.

“At this point, I don’t think [Mr. ElBaradei] will have much to report,” he said.

On other issues, Mr. Schulte:

• Denied that a proposed U.S. civilian nuclear deal with India — which never signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty — had undermined Washington’s campaign against Iran. “I hear that argument a lot more in Washington than I do in Vienna,” he said.

He said members of the 30-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, which must approve parts of the special deal for India, expressed growing support for the deal in their most recent meeting.

• Said the United States and its allies hope to present a plan at the June IAEA board meeting that would guarantee nuclear fuel supplies for countries that agree not to enrich uranium on their own soil, with a final deal possible by the end of the year.

• Said IAEA inspectors have found Iran’s nuclear scientists to be “technically competent” and “motivated,” but he added that there was no hard and fast estimate on when Iran might be able to produce a nuclear weapon.

“Anybody who gives an exact time frame on that probably doesn’t know what he is talking about,” he said.

• Nicholas Kralev contributed to this report.

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