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Iran: EU supports Iranian-Russian deal on Bushehr

By Ahto Lobjakas

The European Commission today said the bloc has no objections to a deal signed Sunday between Iran and Russia, under which Moscow provides the Iranian nuclear facility at Bushehr uranium -- and then repatriates the spent fuel. Germany, Britain and France have spearheaded a months-long effort to get Iran to indefinitely suspend its own uranium enrichment activities. The effort has so far lacked direct U.S. backing, but reports suggest Washington may now be willing to lend its endorsement to certain offers being made by the EU.

Brussels, 28 February (RFE/RL) -- The European Union has firmly rejected suggestions that a deal on 27 February between Iran and Russia came as a surprise to the bloc.

Although officials say there has been no "formal" coordination of respective EU and Russian approaches to Iran, they say Moscow warned Brussels well in advance of the deal.

Emma Udwin (eds: female), external relations spokeswoman at the Commission, told reporters in Brussels on 28 February that the two approaches are compatible. "Insofar as we have the details," Udwin said, "our understanding is that the recent deal between Iran and Russia is compatible with our own approach, since both sides have made it clear that they will fully respect international rules and regulations on non-proliferation, and most importantly that Bushehr will operate under the close supervision of the IAEA [the International Atomic Energy Agency]."

Udwin said Russia has repeatedly assured the EU that it shares the objective of preventing Iran from becoming a "militarily nuclear state."

The EU is likely to obtain more details on the Bushehr deal at a foreign ministers' level meeting with Russia in Luxembourg on Monday.

Officials in Brussels say they assume that under the deal, Russia will provide Iran's Bushehr nuclear facility with enriched uranium and repatriate the spent fuel after reprocessing.

The EU's own negotiating effort, led by Britain, Germany and France, has featured similar offers. However, Iran has time and again stressed it has only agreed to suspend enrichment activities for the duration of the talks. Iranian officials also point out that as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it is entitled to enrich its own nuclear fuel.

Neither the EU nor the United States believes this would yield sufficient guarantees that Iran will not try to assemble its own nuclear weapon. Therefore, in the words of one EU official, who asked not to be named, the shared aim for the EU and the United States is to "stop the cycle."

There is, however, a crucial difference between the EU and U.S. positions. The United States does not agree that Iran needs a nuclear industry at all, pointing to the country's vast resources of oil and gas.

Udwin on 28 February reiterated a contrary EU stance. "While we believe very firmly that it is important for all sides to avoid Iran becoming a militarily nuclear state," Udwin said, "we as the EU have never contested Iran's right to develop civilian power."

EU officials said on 28 February that U.S. president George W. Bush last week had indicated verbal support for the EU-led diplomatic approach. He also said the United States has no immediate intention of attacking Iran -- though he said all options remain on the table.

A report in "The Washington Post" on 28 February said Bush this week may signal stronger public support for the EU's diplomatic efforts, in the short term at least. It is not clear at this stage, what if anything the United States is prepared to offer Iran. In the past, Iran has indicated it wants some kind of security guarantees.

An EU official told RFE/RL on 28 February that the EU is offering Iran mainly economic incentives -- "closer engagement to help them deal with the economic and social difficulties." The official noted 750,000 new jobseekers enter Iran's labor market every year. EU assistance could take the form of a trade and cooperation agreement -- which is currently being negotiated. The EU has also been lobbying the United States to unblock Iran's path to becoming a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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