Iran considers offer

Diplomacy eases confrontation

June 07, 2006|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

TEHRAN, IRAN -- The Iranian government suggested yesterday that it would seek changes in the package of incentives offered here on behalf of world powers by European Union Foreign Minister Javier Solana. But comments from both sides also made clear that for now, diplomacy had replaced confrontation over Iran's nuclear aspirations.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, and Solana, who was accompanied by the political directors for England, France, Germany and Russia, said they would be talking again in the coming days.

"We had constructive talks," said Larijani. Solana "delivered certain proposals that they had been working on. These proposals contain a number of positive steps, and there are also ambiguities that have to be cleared up."

Speaking to reporters in Laredo, Texas, President Bush described Iran's reaction as "positive."

"We will see if the Iranians take our offer seriously," Bush said. "The choice is theirs to make."

The world powers are demanding that Iran halt its uranium enrichment-related work in return for economic incentives and intangible support such as backing from the West for Iran's bid to join the World Trade Organization.

Key to the entire offer, however, is the United States' commitment, announced last week, to join the Europeans, Russia and China in talks with Iran if the Islamic republic suspends uranium enrichment-related activities. Many of the economic offers, some of which the European Union also made nearly a year ago, cannot be delivered without U.S. backing because of legal and treaty requirements.

Among them is a guarantee that the United States would facilitate a European offer to provide Iran with a light-water reactor and other civilian nuclear technology. Much of the light-water nuclear technology originates in the United States and without American government approval, the Europeans could not provide it to Iran.

The decision to offer Iran help with a nuclear reactor is bound to be especially controversial because it is possible to harvest spent plutonium from such a plant and use it to manufacture material for an atomic bomb, according to scientists.

"Spent fuel from a light-water reactor is harder to process" for use in a bomb, said David Albright, a former United Nations weapons inspector. "But nothing is proliferation-proof."

Western powers are convinced that Iran's nuclear program is aimed at achieving the capability to make bombs. Tehran insists it wants nuclear technology only for civilian purposes.

The United States and the other countries have also committed to help Iran obtain new agricultural technology and to help Iran's "civil aviation" sector, said foreign diplomats. The U.S. currently refuses to sell anything to Iran, and the nation's aging fleet has suffered several fatal crashes. Tehran's air authority routinely is forced to cannibalize parts from one plane to keep another running. Because the U.S. owns the licenses to a number of parts, its endorsement is needed for the sale of both parts and planes manufactured in other countries - such as the French Airbus. Technical assistance could be part of the package, diplomats said.

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