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US hawks ‘hinder moves’ on Iran nuclear incentives

May 24, 2006

By Guy Dinmore in Washington and Daniel Dombey in London

Published: May 24 2006 03:00

Opposition by US “hawks” led by Dick Cheney, the vice-president, is complicating efforts by the main European powers to put together a package of incentives aimed at persuading Iran to suspend its nuclear fuel cycle programme, according to diplomats and analysts in Washington.

London is today hosting political directors of the EU3 of France, Germany and the UK, together with China, Russia and the US to look at the twin tools of incentives and sanctions.

Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, was said by one diplomat to have “gone out on a limb” in an attempt to back the EU3’s package of incentives but was facing resistance from Mr Cheney who is playing a more visible role in US foreign policy. Another diplomat said US internal divisions were holding up an agreement with the Europeans. The political directors held a preliminary meeting in London yesterday.

Some European diplomats believe that Washington will back the package – which includes guarantees for the construction of light water reactors in Iran, promises of nuclear fuel and a new regional security forum – if Moscow endorsed a tough chapter seven United Nations Security Council resolution that would require Iran to suspend uranium enrichment.

“The idea is that something moves if everything moves,” said one EU diplomat. “The positive elements of the package have to move at the same time as Security Council action.”

US officials would not comment on Washington’s internal debate. Ms Rice has denied reports that the EU3 asked the US to provide security guarantees to Iran. Accusing Iran of being the “central banker of terrorism”, she made clear that such assurances were “not on the table”.

The current version of the package steers clear of formal security guarantees. It would, however, set up a new “regional security mechanism”, including Iran and other Gulf countries, to reassure the Iranian government that its neighbours did not seek its overthrow.

Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, has already rejected the EU’s advances, even before an offer has been made.

Diplomats are doubtful Iran will accept a deal that does not allow it to continue at least small-scale uranium enrichment. The US and EU3 have ruled that out. But the package envisages participating governments providing guarantees for an international consortium of companies to build light water reactors in Iran.

Mr Cheney is said to oppose the notion of “rewarding bad behaviour” following Iran’s alleged breaches of its nuclear safeguards commitments. The “hawks” – who include John Bolton, the US envoy to the UN, and Bob Joseph, a senior arms control official – fear a repeat of a similar agreement reached with North Korea in 1994 which did not stop the communist regime from pursuing a secret weapons programme.

Ministers are still bruised from angry exchanges between Ms Rice and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov two weeks ago

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