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. Iran election won't change our stance on nuclear inspections: diplomats
VIENNA (AFP) Jun 23, 2005
The outcome of Iran's presidential election will have no influence on the European Union's demand that the Islamic Republic guarantee that it is not making nuclear weapons, diplomats and analysts said Thursday.

Whether the well-known former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani wins in Friday's ballot or his more hardline rival Tehran mayor Mahmood Ahmadinejad prevails "will not really change anything," a diplomat from one of the three EU countries negotiating with Iran since December told AFP.

"The hardliner has taken a very robust position that Iran should not give up its nuclear program. That's entirely expected. Rafsanjani has been making similar statements," the diplomat, who asked not to be named, said.

It is clear that Western countries would be more comfortable with Rafsanjani, who is a known quantity.

"In the past, Mr Rafsanjani has had a slightly more liberal attitude and we have felt in the last several weeks that there has been an easing of tensions between Iran, the European Union and the international community on this subject," French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said after Ahmadinejad was thrust into a surprise run-off against Rafsanjani.

But the diplomat said a change at the top in Iran would "not change the European stance at all."

The diplomat said the European position, presented by so-called EU3 negotiators Britain, France and Germany, remains that while the trio "is looking at ways in which we can help Iran develop a civilian nuclear program, the red line is that Iran should not have the capability to enrich uranium. There should be no fuel cycle activity."

Uranium enrichment makes fuel that can be used in civilian nuclear reactors, but in highly refined such fuel can also form the explosive core of atomic bombs.

The United States and the European Union jointly urged Iran on Monday to freeze uranium enrichment as well as reprocessing that can make plutonium, also a potential bomb material.

Washington would like to see Iran summoned before the UN Security Council, which could impose tough international sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Iran claims that its nuclear activity is non-military and that it has the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, but Washington says Tehran is using its civilian program to mask covert atomic weapons work.

Non-proliferation expert Gary Samore, a former US government official who now heads research at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) think tank, said "everybody thinks that Rafsanjani is going to win."

But he said that in any case, it is not the president who has been determining Iran's nuclear position. The outgoing head of state, the moderate Mohammad Khatami, "had very little authority anyway," he said.

"These negotiations with the Europeans have been run not by the elected government but by the ruling clerics," Samore said.

Iran's supreme guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei "himself is running the show," the European diplomat said.

Samore said that once the election is over "the Iranians will try to put pressure on the Europeans to give them a deal that allows Iran to enrich uranium in some way."

The EU3 have promised to submit a proposal to Iran by later July or early August on incentives they are willing to provide in return for Iran guaranteeing it will not produce nuclear weapons.

"My sense from talking to the Europeans is that they are not going to table proposals Iran will find acceptable," Samore said, as they will "renew their offer to support nuclear power and nuclear research development in Iran (but only) if Iran agrees to abandon enrichment."

Samore said he did not think this would lead the Iranians to break off the talks, however.

"I don't see a new Iranian government as a first official act breaking off the talks and going to the Security Council," Samore said.

The diplomat said that while working groups of experts may consult over the summer, the next major political meeting between the EU3 and Iran looks to be in September.

The problem for the Europeans is "that a lot of people are simply heading off for their summer break," the diplomat said.

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