China, Russia Join Deal on Iran
Russia and China endorsed a package of incentives and penalties Thursday designed by Western nations to push Iran to suspend its nuclear program.
Few details of the agreement were forthcoming, and British Foreign Minister Margaret Beckett, who announced the deal in muted language, cautioned that negotiators wanted to present the package to the Iranians before making it public.
But diplomats close to the issue said incentives were similar to previous proposals, including helping Iran obtain a civilian nuclear reactor. The term “sanctions” was noticeably absent from discussion, but diplomats strongly signaled that should it refuse the offer, Iran would be subject to the full array of United Nations Security Council punitive measures.
“We have agreed to a set of far-reaching proposals as a basis for discussion with Iran,” said Beckett, flanked by top officials of the five permanent Security Council members and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana in the ivy-lined garden of the British ambassador’s Vienna residence.
“We are prepared to resume negotiations should Iran resume suspension of all enrichmentrelated and reprocessing activities as required” by the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, she added. “And we would also suspend action in the Security Council. We also agreed that if Iran decides not to engage in negotiations, further steps would have to be taken in the Security Council.”
Western powers believe that Iran is pursuing the capability to produce a nuclear bomb, but Tehran contends that it seeks only the technology to enrich uranium to generate electricity.
The endorsement by Russia and China was considered a major breakthrough in months-long diplomatic efforts on the issue. Both nations are key to any sanctions because they hold veto power on the Security Council and are major trading partners with Iran.
Iran was circumspect in its first public comments on the offer. “Iran welcomes dialogue under just conditions, but [we] won’t give up our [nuclear] rights,” Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said in a statement read on state television. “We are prepared, within a defined, just framework and without any discrimination, to hold a dialogue about common concerns.”
Iran will have “weeks, not months” to decide whether it is willing to negotiate and suspend its enrichment-related activities, Western diplomats said.
They added that the decision would be a tough one for the Islamic Republic; it would require Tehran to stop all research and development activity, including even “dry run” operation of centrifuges used to enrich gaseous uranium, a senior U.S. State Department diplomat said.
In addition, Tehran would have to answer outstanding questions from the U.N. nuclear monitoring agency, the IAEA, which has been seeking to learn the full extent of Iran’s nuclear activities. Tehran also would have to abide by additional agency regulations, including more extensive inspections of nuclear-related facilities.
Whether Iran agrees to resume negotiations or refuses, months, if not years, of diplomacy lie ahead, diplomats said.
The absence of specifics in Thursday’s announcement appeared aimed at minimizing the likelihood of the proposal becoming the subject of public debate before the Iranians have a chance to hear it explained by the Europeans, who will probably present the package to Tehran in the next few days.
Diplomats hope that if the package is laid out privately, its seriousness will be clear and the Iranians will be hard put to dismiss it.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov, speaking to Russian media after the meeting, said, “Nobody will be going into details now. In the first place, this [proposal] should be given to Iran. Then we will look at the reaction of the Iranian side.”
Lavrov urged Iran to take the offer seriously.
“We count on Tehran meeting these proposals in a constructive manner,” he said.
U.S. diplomats were clearly pleased by the Russian endorsement. It helps clear the way for an agreement among the five permanent Security Council members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany.
“These are conditions [set by] six countries.... We are very satisfied,” said a senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the discussions.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who announced Wednesday that the U.S. was willing to join Europeans in direct talks with Iran if it suspended its nuclear activity, arrived in Vienna on Thursday. She spent more than eight hours meeting with leaders on the proposal, which is described as a five- or six-page document.
Diplomats close to the negotiations said that all parties had agreed to the incentives in the proposal, but that the penalties would be drawn from a list. Also undetermined was the timing of penalties, which diplomats said would depend on how the Iranians responded.
The incentives under discussion are not new; they include help with construction of a light-water reactor, guaranteed access to nuclear fuel for civilian power plants and imports of many goods for which the United States holds licenses, such as parts for airplanes. U.S. law bars trade with Iran; the two nations do not have diplomatic ties.
Potential punitive measures would include action by the Security Council, which has the power to ban travel, freeze assets, restrict visas and impose economic embargoes on exports of nuclear technology and a wide array of other goods to Iran. Diplomats said the package offered a clear choice to Iran: Suspend uranium enrichment and be treated as a full partner in the world community, or face painful consequences from a united international community with the power to undermine Iran’s economy and stability.
“So there are two paths ahead,” Beckett said. “We urge Iran to take the positive path and to consider seriously our substantive proposals, which would bring significant benefits to Iran.”
The agreement Thursday finalized discussions begun May 8 in London in which officials decided that they would present Iran with a choice, diplomats said. “But the details all came together tonight,” a senior State Department official said Thursday.
Russia and China both expressed interest Thursday in joining the so-called EU-3 -- Britain, France and Germany -- and the U.S. if negotiations went forward. That approach would mirror the multilateral framework for talks with North Korea over its nuclear program.
Times staff writers Paul Richter in Washington and Kim Murphy in Moscow and special correspondent Julia Damianova in Vienna contributed to this report.