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Experts: Iran Leadership in Deep Debate Over Nuclear Offer


Iran has not responded to a European offer of incentives designed to induce it to give up any nuclear weapons ambitions. Iranian officials have said Iran will give its answer by the end of August, but the West has accused them of stalling.

After a July 11 deadline came and went without an answer from Iran on the European nuclear offer, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the matter is being sent to the U.N. Security Council because Iran has had plenty of time to come up with an answer.

"There is, indeed, a very good proposal on the table that could be a basis for negotiations," she said. "There is also a path ahead to the Security Council on which we are now launched, given the outcome of the meeting in Paris, because the Iranians had not responded positively in a timely fashion."

But some Western diplomats and Iranian analysts say what appears to the West to be stalling is actually a lack of consensus inside Iran. There are competing centers of power, although the final decisions always rest with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Political Science and International Relations Professor Hermidas Bavand, of Allameh University in Tehran, says there is no agreement yet on whether to accept or reject the European offer. That, he says, explains the seemingly contradictory statements coming from different Iranian officials.

"There is not a unified strategy. It does not have a kind of transparency. It is due to the fact of different centers of power," said Bavand. "So the policy of the government, particularly foreign policy, tends to be extremely ambiguous."

The West says Iran is embarked on a path to nuclear weapons. Iranian officials deny that, saying they only want peaceful nuclear energy.

The details of the package have not been revealed, but European officials say it includes incentives to get Iran to halt uranium enrichment.

The key question is whether Iran will suspend uranium enrichment as a precondition to further negotiations. It is a very delicate issue here.

The chairman of the Iran's Parliament Energy Committee, Kamal Daneshyar, has been deeply involved in the discussions.

One thing we are considering is whether to keep perhaps 80 percent of the uranium enrichment here, while the other 20 percent would be done by Russia and then sent back here, he says. Such joint venture ideas are among the ideas being circulated, he adds.

Daneshyar says Iran very much wants to get the nuclear issue off the international agenda to the satisfaction of all concerned. But, he adds, we will never under any circumstances give up our right to peaceful nuclear energy.

Another Iranian source who is well-placed to know the thinking of Iran's most senior officials predicts that Iran will reject the offer in August because of deep internal opposition to suspending uranium enrichment.

Ordinary Iranians strongly support the government's assertion of its right to nuclear energy. But Professor Bavand says the government's ambiguity worries them as well with the possibility looming of sanctions from the U.N. Security Council on an already troubled economy.

"So still they do not know precisely in what particular direction the [nuclear] question has been moved," he said. "So they hear different statements from different persons. They [officials] are not unified as far as statements are concerned. So they create a sort of ambiguity, along with a kind of uneasiness, among the Iranian people."

Officials and diplomats here say Iran thinks that it can survive U.N. sanctions because officials believe that the sanctions will not be strong enough. They reason that countries like China, a leading importer of Iranian oil, and Russia will not back sanctions that will hit Iran's energy sector. The United States already has sanctions against trade with Iran.

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