Speaking for Europe, Chirac Warns Iran on Inspections

Posted in Iran | 22-Apr-04 | Author: Elaine Sciolino| Source: The New York Times

PARIS, April 21 - In a hardening of Europe's position toward Iran's nuclear activities, President Jacques Chirac of France criticized Iran on Wednesday for failing to comply fully with international inspections of its nuclear sites, and suggested that Iran had violated the spirit of an agreement with France, Germany and Britain to curtail its nuclear programs, senior French officials said.

In a 45-minute meeting at Élysée Palace with Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi of Iran, Mr. Chirac also warned Tehran that unless it met the demands of the United Nations' weapons inspection agency before that group gathers in June for what he called a "decisive" meeting, it ran the risk that international goodwill would be eroded.

Mr. Chirac's tough remarks resulted from mounting suspicions in Europe and the United States that Iran is determined to develop nuclear weapons and is cheating on a much-heralded agreement in October with France, Britain and Germany to allow stricter inspections of nuclear sites and to suspend production of enriched uranium, which can be used to develop nuclear weapons.

"We are seeing a pattern of Iran making promises and then trying to find ways around them," said one senior French official. "The Iranians are fighting us trench by trench. They are very clever cheaters."

Mr. Chirac even got into some highly technical aspects of Iran's nuclear program, ticking off a list of specific things Iran must do. They included the signing of additional restrictions under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and explaining why it did not report a program for an advanced uranium- enrichment centrifuge.

Last month the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations' watchdog agency, passed a resolution deploring that omission in the Iranian report, which was supposed to be the complete history of Iran's past and present nuclear activities. The agency director, Mohamed ElBaradei, described the omission as a "great setback."

Mr. Kharazi, for his part, told Mr. Chirac that Iran was fully complying with the agency's demands and pledged to give it a fuller report in mid-May. The Iranian also turned the tables, blaming the Europeans for breaking their promise to give Iran the advanced technology as they pledged to do under the October agreement.

"We have been trying to fulfill whatever we are committed to do," Mr. Kharazi said in an interview this evening. "Contrary to that, the European side has not exercised all its commitments. Still, our cooperation continues."

Although the positions of the United States on the one side and Britain, France and Germany on the other over Iran's nuclear intentions have moved closer during the past year, the three European governments remain committed to negotiating with Iran in an attempt to moderate its behavior, while some members of the Bush administration favor punishing Iran with a Security Council resolution.

Both the Europeans and the Americans know that they have little leverage over Iran's nuclear activities and that Iran can play a positive role, or at least a neutral one, in Iraq. Iran shares a 730-mile border with Iraq and, as Mr. Kharazi made clear today, has "traditional relations and some influence" with its Shiite and Kurdish populations and with the Shiite religious leadership.

"This influence can be used to help Iraqis get united and collectively solve their problems," he said.

He confirmed reports that the Bush administration had asked Iran to help bring stability to Iraq.

"They know Iran is playing a positive role in Iraq and they have asked us to continue to play this positive role," he said. There was no American request for Iranian mediation, he said, but he added that Iran was a force that had to be reckoned with.

"No one," he said, "can deny that Iran is a regional player."

Mr. Kharazi dispatched a top Foreign Ministry official, Hossein Sadeghi, to Iraq last week on what Mr. Kharazi called a fact-finding mission with members of the Iraqi Governing Council and Iraqi clerics. Iran favors the plan to transfer authority to the Iraqis as soon as possible and has called for all foreign troops to be put under the United Nations flag.

Mr. Kharazi also insisted that Iran is determined to help preserve the territorial integrity of Iraq "by any means." Its partition, he added, would create "all sorts of problems for the whole region in terms of security, refugees."

As for the nuclear issue, early this month the foreign ministries of the three European countries issued identical statements sharply criticizing Iran's decision to start up a uranium conversion plant in Isfahan, saying it "sends the wrong signal" about Iran's pledge to suspend uranium enrichment.

The statement said the decision would make it more difficult for Iran to regain the trust of the international community and called on Iran to explain its intentions.

Some members of the Bush administration seem eager to show that the European agreement with Iran was a sham. In testimony before a House committee late last month, John Bolton, the under secretary of state for arms control and international security, said there was "no reason to believe that Iran has made a strategic decision to abandon its nuclear weapons program."

Mr. Bolton said the recent discovery that Iran is developing and testing advanced uranium-enrichment centrifuges proved his point, and accused Iran of a "pattern of repeatedly lying to and providing false reports" to the inspection agency.