EU Prepared to Back Civilian Iran Program

By SLOBODAN LEKIC, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 5 minutes ago

BRUSSELS, Belgium - The European Union will support an Iranian nuclear program that cannot be put to military use and will boost political and economic cooperation if Tehran accepts international oversight, a top official said Monday.

EU foreign ministers meeting Monday considered a package of enhanced incentives to induce Tehran to stop uranium enrichment, which many experts see as a first step toward producing nuclear weapons.

"We are prepared to work on a cooperation package and support Iran's development of a proliferation-proof civilian nuclear program," Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said after the meeting.

She said the EU's new plan would contain three elements — economic assistance, political cooperation, and support for the civilian nuclear program.

The EU remains deeply concerned by Iran's failure to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, she said.

"We remain committed to finding a diplomatic solution ... The intention is not to push Iran into further isolation but to find a way to bring Iran back to a negotiating track," Plassnik said. "But we will also look at measures to be taken should Iran continue to reject this course."

The foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels came just a day after hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rejected any incentive package that would require Tehran to stop enriching uranium.

The EU said Monday it supports a possible Security Council resolution that would require Iran to comply with demands to halt enrichment activities and to suspend construction of a heavy water research reactor that could be the source of plutonium used in nuclear weapons.

Tehran has repeatedly asserted that its nuclear program, which includes uranium enrichment, is aimed only at generating power. But the United States, Israel and the EU fear it is a cover for the development of nuclear weapons.

Iran has already rejected a package of economic and political incentives offered by the EU last August in return for a permanent end to uranium enrichment. But EU governments have continued to offer sweeteners while at the same time pushing the United Nations for measures that could lead to sanctions if it refuses.

The EU hopes an enhanced offer could help persuade Iran to comply with the demands, even as Russia and China resist European and American efforts to draft a Security Council resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter — which would make it enforceable by sanctions or, if necessary, military action.

EU officials have said a final proposal could be hammered out in time for a meeting of nonproliferation officials from the five permanent Security Council nations next Friday in London.

After Monday's talks in Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Iran had to put a "complete stop" to uranium enrichment activities.

"But ... if they want to construct a nuclear energy power plant, they would have, in cooperation with the European Union and other members of the international community, the best and most sophisticated technology," he said. "If they reject that, it would mean that what they want is something different."

Other ministers echoed that sentiment.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he counts on the fact that "there remains common sense in the government in Tehran" to accept the offer.

"If they are prepared to (comply with IAEA recommendations), there could be real advantages in tackling the problems that Iran itself says that it is seeking to address," British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said.