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Europe, U.S. team up on approach to Iran

WASHINGTON—Britain, France and Germany affirmed Friday that they would join the United States in seeking United Nations sanctions against Iran if the Tehran regime spurns a deal to abandon a program that could be used to produce fuel for nuclear weapons.

The trio's statement fulfilled their end of an agreement with the United States on forging a common diplomatic approach to Iran's nuclear program, which the Bush administration charges is aimed at developing a nuclear arsenal.

The Bush administration confirmed that it wouldn't object to the so-called European Union Three offering Iran modest economic incentives to give up its program to purify, or enrich, uranium.

"I'm pleased that we are speaking with one voice with our European friends," President Bush said during a visit to Shreveport, La.

Iran suspended the uranium enrichment program in November when it opened negotiations with the EU Three.

In exchange for Tehran permanently halting its program, the EU would support Iran's entry to the World Trade Organization, a process that could take years. European firms also would sell spare parts for Iran's aging U.S.-made Boeing passenger jets.

The Bush administration would stop blocking Iran's WTO application and would issue the export licenses that European firms need to sell the Boeing spare parts.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice issued a statement confirming that the Bush administration wouldn't oppose the EU's offer of economic incentives to Iran.

The Bush administration had previously rejected any EU move that could be interpreted as rewarding Iran and sought to send the matter to the United Nations Security Council.

The coordinated U.S.-European statements were meant to take the focus off of the trans-Atlantic differences and put it back on Iran's behavior.

Iran, which denies it's seeking nuclear weapons and insists that it has the right under international law to enrich uranium to low levels for civilian electric power reactors, had no immediate response to the EU and U.S. moves.

Fears that Iran is developing nuclear weapons have grown since revelations starting in 2003 that it had for years been secretly buying technologies that could be used to develop nuclear weapons from a Pakistan-based smuggling network.

Iran was required as a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty to inform the International Atomic Energy Agency, a U.N. watchdog organization, of the purchases, but it did not.

Britain, France and Germany on Friday circulated to other EU members a report on the status of negotiations they've been holding with Iran in Geneva.

The report said the talks have focused on reaching an agreement on "objective guarantees that Iran's nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes."

European officials said "objective guarantees" was diplomatic code for the requirement that Iran abandon its uranium enrichment program.

The report said the dispute could be resolved without referring the matter to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions as long as Tehran kept its uranium enrichment program in suspension under IAEA monitoring. It also would have to provide "full cooperation" to IAEA inspectors.

"If, on the other hand, despite our efforts, Iran does not do so and this is confirmed by the IAEA Director General ... we shall have no choice but to support referring Iran's nuclear program to the U.N. Security Council," it continued.

"We are united in our determination that Iran should not acquire a nuclear weapons program," the letter said.

Joseph Cirincione, an arms control expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who returned this week from a conference in Iran on its nuclear program, said in an interview that every Iranian official he spoke to "discounted" the EU's offer of economic incentives.

"They said these were trivial issues and this was really about Iran's right to have access to nuclear energy and energy sources of the future," said Cirincione. "The Iranians did not discuss the outlines of the deal they wanted. The good news is they said in essence, `Make us an offer.' I left with the distinct impression that they were open to a deal."

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(Warren P. Strobel contributed to this report.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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