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UN nuke board backs EU offer of incentives to Iran
Updated: 2005-03-03 22:53

VIENNA - The 35 nations on the U.N. nuclear watchdog's board urged Iran on Thursday to step up cooperation with U.N. inspectors and backed a European Union offer of incentives if Tehran ends sensitive nuclear work.

Earlier this week, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, said that by concealing parts of its nuclear program for nearly two decades Iran had created a "confidence deficit" and urged Tehran to improve its transparency and cooperation with U.N. inspectors.

A conclusion of this week's IAEA governing board meeting issued by its Canadian chairwoman said the 35 member states unanimously said it was "essential that Iran provide full transparency and extend proactive cooperation to the agency."

The conclusion also said: "Support was expressed for the negotiations currently being undertaken between Iran, France, Germany and the UK ... and (the board) expressed the hope that an agreement would be reached on long-term arrangements."

The European Union's "big three" states have offered Iran a package of economic and political incentives if it abandons its uranium enrichment program, which could produce fuel for nuclear power plants or atomic weapons. Tehran has temporarily frozen most of the program but has refused to abandon it.

Washington accuses Iran of developing nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian atomic energy program. Tehran denies this, insisting its nuclear ambitions are confined to the peaceful generation of electricity.

The EU also suspects Iran is developing the capability to produce atomic weapons but hopes its offer of incentives will persuade Tehran to voluntarily abandon any such plans.

The head of Iran's delegation to the IAEA, Sirus Naseri, told Reuters he was not necessarily optimistic about this month's round of talks between the EU3 and Iran. However, he said a breakthrough was possible if the Europeans were ready to compromise by allowing Tehran to keep its enrichment program.

"I'm confident that it's possible (to reach an agreement)," he said. "At the technical level it's definitely possible if the political will is there."


The United States has so far refused to join forces with the EU, but is now considering whether to actively back the European offer of incentives to Tehran -- a move that European diplomats say would significantly boost the EU3 negotiating position.

European diplomats said the United States is likely to stop blocking Iran's bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) and may permit EU allies to sell Tehran civilian aircraft parts as incentives in the nuclear talks.

Echoing Washington, the EU trio criticized Iran on Wednesday for failing to keep its pledge to freeze all enrichment-related work. The trio also chided Iran for not fully cooperating with the agency's inspectors.

But Naseri dismissed the European criticism as unimportant. "I think it was very mild. It was not significant."

Hossein Mousavian, a senior Iranian security official, reacted angrily to ElBaradei's expressed desire to visit facilities that are not officially declared nuclear sites.

ElBaradei's deputy, Pierre Goldschmidt, said earlier this week that Iran had refused to let IAEA inspectors return to a military complex called Parchin where Washington believes Iran may have conducted tests linked to nuclear bomb-making.

Mousavian said ElBaradei should avoid making "such excessive demands," adding that he "has no right to raise any demand beyond the international treaties."

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