Senior officials of the United States and other members of the G-8 grouping of industrialized nations will meet in Washington Friday on the Iranian nuclear program. U.S. officials say they're willing to listen to European ideas for incentives to Iran to stop enriching uranium.
Officials here insist the Bush administration is convinced of the need to refer the issue of Iran's nuclear weapons program to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.
But they're not completely closing the door to a reported European proposal for incentives to Iran to drop its uranium enrichment activities, and the issue will be discussed here Friday at a meeting of senior arms-control officials of the G-8 countries.
Confirmation of the meeting comes amid news reports of an initiative spearheaded by Britain, France and Germany that would offer Iran benefits if it complied with international nuclear obligations in advance of a critical meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in November.
A New York Times report Tuesday said the European proposal would allow Iran to import fuel for the nuclear power plant it is building at Bushehr on the Persian Gulf, and lift some economic sanctions against Tehran, if it stopped enriching uranium.
At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States continues to hold that the IAEA governing board should refer the matter to the U.N. Security Council when it meets in Vienna November 25th, but that it will listen to the European ideas:
"They, as I said, have always made clear that there are certain aspects, certain benefits in the EU relationship with Iran that wouldn't happen without Iranian compliance," he explained. "So, we'll hear what they put together. We'll hear them out, and talk together with them about how to move Iran into compliance with the board of governors' requirements, or what to do if the matter needs to be referred to the United Nations."
The U.S. delegation at Friday's meeting will be headed by Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton, who has long advocated sending the Iranian nuclear issue to the Security Council.
The Bush administration maintains that Iran's nominally peaceful nuclear program is concealing a covert effort to acquire nuclear weapons.
A senior diplomat who spoke to reporters here said even if Iran were to agree to a deal offered by the Europeans, the United States would still support a referral to the Security Council, based on its past record of deception on its nuclear activities.
He also said the matter could be referred to the Security Council "in different ways," and that a request for economic sanctions would not necessarily be part of it.
At the same time, however, he said "everything" about Iran's behavior, past and present, would indicate that the matter needs to be sent to the council "for further action."
At its last session in September, the IAEA board gave Iran until its next meeting to prove it has ceased all enrichment activities, including reprocessing uranium and building centrifuges used to enrich it.
Iran, which has large domestic uranium reserves, insists its nuclear activities are entirely peaceful and that it has a legitimate right to develop a complete nuclear fuel cycle.