EU powers to offer Iran reactor for atom deal-sources
BERLIN, May 16: The EU's three biggest powers plan to offer Iran a light-water nuclear reactor as part of a package of incentives if Tehran agrees to freeze its uranium enrichment programme, EU diplomats said today.
They said they would be very surprised if Iran accepted their offer, though they added that if rejected, it would be seen as confirmation that Tehran's nuclear programme does not solely aim at power generation for peaceful ends.
The United States and EU accuse Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian atomic energy programme, an allegation Tehran denies.
A European Union diplomat said the political directors from the ''EU3'' Britain, France and Germany and the office of EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana would discuss the proposed incentives plan with US, Russian and Chinese counterparts in London on Friday.
''The EU3 and Solana are planning an offer of a European light-water reactor to Iran in return for a suspension of its enrichment programme,'' the diplomat, familiar with the negotiations on Iran, told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Nuclear experts say light-water reactors are more difficult to use for weapons purposes than heavy-water plants, which produce fuel which is easier to use to make plutonium bombs.
US ambassador to the UN John Bolton said he would not comment on the reactor idea but made clear the package had to include sticks as well as carrots ''not half a package''.
''And it will be only when the entire package of both halves is put together, I think we'll be prepared to express an opinion,'' Bolton told reporters at UN headquarters.
According to a confidential EU document obtained on Tuesday by Reuters, the 25-nation bloc is considering a wide array of economic and political sanctions, including travel bans on Iranian officials, curtailing diplomatic ties, trade sanctions and the freezing of assets of Iranian companies and persons.
The EU trio first proposed the idea of supporting Iranian efforts to develop light-water technology in an offer they made to Tehran in August 2005. That offer, which Iran rejected, followed two years of tortuous negotiations.
At the time, the Iranians complained that the European offer was too vague and contained no specific incentives.
EU3 COUNTING ON US SUPPORT EU
diplomats said the new offer would be much more specific, partly because they were confident of the full support of Washington to offer Iran a nuclear power plant. The point, they said, is to show sceptics like Russia and China that the West is not trying to deprive Iran of civilian nuclear energy.
''Still, no one believes that this reactor will be built, because Iran will say no,'' an EU diplomat said, adding that a European reactor would be much more expensive for the Iranians than the 1 billion dollars Russian plant currently under construction.
China's foreign ministry declared its support for what it expects to be a broad European offer of incentives.
However, China and Russia are opposed to an EU-backed United Nations Security Council resolution that could penalise Iran if it continued sensitive nuclear development.
Iran again insisted that it would pursue enrichment, in defiance of UN Security Council demands that it desist.
''Iran's decision to preserve this right (to enrichment) is definite and irreversible,'' Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said in a statement.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, visiting Beijing, said negotiation was the key to resolving the dispute.
''We should not isolate Iran nor put pressure on Iran,'' he said after meeting Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing.
He reiterated that Moscow could not accept any suggestion of use of force against Iran. Russia, however, was concerned Tehran had not answered all the questions of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said Lavrov.
After three years of investigation, the IAEA has said it still cannot confirm that Iran's nuclear programme is entirely peaceful, but has found no proof of a military programme.
Iran's Asefi appeared to dismiss the latest EU package in advance, saying that no incentive was required beyond implementing the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and IAEA rules without discrimination.
The NPT says signatories may research, develop and produce nuclear fuel for peaceful use. Western officials say Iran must prove its aims are peaceful before it can exercise such a right.
Iran concealed its enrichment programme for 18 years before it was disclosed by an exile opposition group.