EU troika offers Iran peace deal in nuclear stand-off


IRAN: Britain, France and Germany are to promise Iran it will not face military attack if it abandons enriching uranium, the key to building a nuclear bomb, a senior Iranian official said yesterday.

With Tehran and the three EU countries engaged in delicate brinkmanship as a new hardline Iranian leader is sworn in as president, Hassan Rowhani, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, said the EU trio was to offer the non-aggression pledge as one incentive aimed at getting Iran to forfeit uranium enrichment.

Both sides in the long-running dispute intensified the debate at the weekend, with Tehran saying yesterday that it would resume some nuclear fuel activities today.

Meanwhile, Britain told Tehran it would need to wait another week for the details of the incentives. Under an agreement with the EU last November, Iran suspended its uranium enrichment programme.

The EU troika agreed to deliver a set of political, economic and nuclear offers to Iran by the end of July or early August.

The deadline passed yesterday, according to the Iranians. The EU requested a week's extension because it wants to wait for the inauguration this week of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad before revealing its hand and to see whether the new head of state, viewed as a radical, plans any changes to his nuclear policy or negotiating team.

British officials described the Iranian warning at the weekend as damaging prospects for an overall agreement. Mr Rowhani's disclosures about a non-aggression pact came in a letter on the nuclear crisis to the outgoing president, Mohammed Khatami, reported yesterday by Iran's state news agency.

It is not clear, however, whether Mr Rowhani, viewed as a moderate, will survive in position. The same news agency reported last month that he had resigned. Mr Rowhani also suggested that Iran should bow to EU demands by maintaining its freeze on uranium enrichment, a policy opposed by hardliners.

The Rowhani statement supporting a more pragmatic Iranian course may reflect an internal battle over the direction of nuclear policy under the new administration.

Moderates in Tehran, including president Khatami, have indicated they will preserve the enrichment freeze. But the authorities are sending mixed signals. They rejected the EU request for the extra week with the threat to restart part of the enrichment work.

The Iranians insist the work at Isfahan - taking uranium concentrate and converting it into uranium hexafluoride gas - is not uranium enrichment. The Iranians are threatening to restart the work at Isfahan today, an act that would be viewed negatively by the Europeans and push the EU trio towards the US position - to penalise Iran by taking the dispute to the UN security council.

The Americans and Europeans view the Natanz enrichment plant as the centre of a potential bomb-building capacity and want it closed down.