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. Iran to respond to European nuclear proposal after US elections: analysts
VIENNA (AFP) Oct 22, 2004
Iran still has room for diplomatic maneuvering and will certainly wait until after the November 2 US elections to respond to a European offer to avoid possible UN sanctions and receive nuclear technology by indefinitely suspending uranium enrichment, analysts said Friday.

They also said the deal had no chance of success if the United States did not back the British-French-German offer as the European promises, which also include non-nuclear items such as backing Iran's joining the World Trade Organization, cannot be met without US support.

Britain, France and Germany presented Iran Thursday with a deal to receive valuable nuclear technology, including a light-water reactor which would produce less fissionable material than the heavy-water reactor Tehran wants to build, if the Islamic Republic indefinitely suspended all uranium enrichment activities, according to a confidential document prepared by the Europeans ahead of the talks and obtained by AFP.

Iran said the talks would continue.

"We are at an initial stage, matters have to be considered on both sides," Iranian official Sirus Naseri told reporters after the three-hour meeting in Vienna.

"It was pretty clear that this meeting would not be decisive," Gary Samore of the London think tank the International Institute of Strategic Studies told AFP by telephone.

"This is the beginning of the endgame, not the endgame," Samore said.

The meeting was to give Iran a last-chance to come clean before the UN nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) decides on November 25 whether Iran is cooperating with it or not.

The United States wants the Vienna-based IAEA, which since February 2003 has been investigating Iran on US claims that the Islamic Republic has a covert nuclear weapons program, to send Iran to the UN Security Council, which could impose punishing sanctions.

But the European trio have so far opposed this, favoring instead a policy of "constructive engagement" to get Tehran to cooperate.

Samore said he thought the Iranians were "waiting for the US elections," on November 2, with different calculations then following for Tehran depending on whether incumbent President George W. Bush or his challenger John Kerry wins.

Samore said the Iranian goal is to have the international community recognize its right to uranium enrichment, which makes fuel for civilian reactors but can also manufacture the explosive material for atomic bombs.

The Iranians might try to take advantage of a Kerry victory by agreeing to a three-month full extension from November until when Kerry takes office in January.

"I think if Kerry wins, Iran would strike a compromise that would essentially delay the issue until early next year," Samore said.

"I don't get a sense that Iran is ready to agree to the suspension. I could see the Iranians restoring the suspension for only a brief period of time," Samore said.

But David Albright, a former IAEA inspector and president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, said "I can't believe Iran would turn down" the European trio's package, which includes a recognition of Iran's right to peaceful nuclear technology, measures to increase trade and backing of some of Iran's regional security concerns.

"If Iran turns this down, reasonable people would have to include the country wants nuclear weapons," Albright said.

Albright, who is a physicist, said he was concerned about offering Iran a light-water reactor, since this can still produce fissionable material, but he said he thought the risks could be managed by using the right fuel, namely 19 percent enriched uranium.

Albright said the larger problem is that "Iran wants assurances from the United States that Washington is not going to overthrow the Tehran regime."

The deal "can't move forward without the United States buying into it," Albright said.

The United States on Thursday pressed Iran to respond to the Europeans demands that it comply with the IAEA.

Washington would not comment on the European offer and said it was interested only in whether Tehran would meet its obligations to the IAEA.

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