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EU ministers to persuade Iran to give up N ambitions

Written by: Staff

Brussels, May 15 : European Union foreign ministers meet today to discuss ways to persuade Iran to give up its atomic ambitions and to work out a plan to avert a looming Palestinian economic crisis.

The ministers will work on a package of technical, trade and political sweeteners for Iran if it finally acts to allay Western fears it is seeking to produce an atom bomb, notably by halting uranium enrichment.

Iran either accepts the offer or risks seeing international support harden for a UN resolution ordering it to curb its nuclear activities or face consequences, diplomats said.

''The aim is to come up with a very attractive package to make it difficult for the Iranian government to refuse,'' said a senior envoy from one of the EU3 group of Britain, France and Germany, who are charged with devising the offer.

Iran, the world's fourth-largest oil exporter, has already said it would reject any demand to stop what it calls peaceful nuclear work. It insists its nuclear plans are purely to make electricity.

''Any proposal that obliges us to stop peaceful (nuclear) activities would not have value and would not be valid,'' Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a speech broadcast on Iranian state television on the eve of the Brussels meeting.

Major powers failed last week to agree on a UN resolution to up pressure on Iran amid resistance from China and Russia, both veto-holding members of the U.N. Security Council. The EU wants to have its package ready to show to a May 19 meeting in London of the five permanent council members plus Germany.

Draft statement

A draft statement for today's meeting obtained by Reuters said the EU could help Tehran develop ''a safe, sustainable and proliferation-proof civilian nuclear programme'' while insisting it halt all enrichment activities on its soil.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has urged the United States to enter into direct talks with Tehran, but the White House yesterday rejected that, saying the United Nations was the best forum for those discussions.

The EU ministers must also try to work out how to get much-needed international aid to the Palestinians while refusing contacts with Hamas.

The 25-state body's image in the West Asia was dented by its move last month, along with other major donors, to suspend direct aid to the new Hamas-led Palestinian government for its failure to renounce violence and recognise Israel.

Diplomats said the EU had not expected to be charged by the Quartet of international mediators -- the United States, Russia, European Union and the United Nations -- with devising a plan to funnel aid through, and was now in a race against the clock to get it launched and avert a Palestinian financial collapse.

Unresolved issues include how any new fund would operate, which donors would pay into it and what the cash would be used for.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called yesterday on West Asia peace brokers to deal directly with the Hamas-led government, saying Palestinians cannot afford to wait weeks for an aid mechanism that bypasses Hamas.

''It is clear that these measures will take weeks and our Palestinian people will not be able to wait long to deal with this crisis,'' Haniyeh said.

The Palestinian Authority is 1.3 billion dollars in debt and has no income to pay long overdue salaries to 165,000 government employees, deepening economic hardship in the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.


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