June 28, 2006

Germany can accept nuclear enrichment in Iran

By Louis Charbonneau

BERLIN (Reuters) - Iran should be allowed to enrich uranium
for power generation provided there is close monitoring by U.N.
inspectors to ensure it is not trying to develop atomic
weapons, Germany's defense minister said on Wednesday.

The minister's comments may suggest that after years of
failed negotiations with Iran, Germany and some other Western
powers are willing to compromise with Iran over enrichment in
order to resolve peacefully the nuclear stand-off with Tehran.

But it is unclear if this view would be acceptable to
hardline camps in Washington and London, Western diplomats say.

In an interview with Reuters this week, Defense Minister
Franz Josef Jung was asked if Iran should be allowed to enrich
uranium under the scrutiny of the Vienna-based International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

"I think so. The offer includes everything. That means the
civilian use of nuclear energy is possible but not atomic
weapons. And monitoring mechanisms must be applied. I think it
would be wise for Iran to accept this offer," he said.

Jung was referring to a June 6 offer of incentives made to
Iran by Germany and the five permanent U.N. Security Council
members -- the United States, Britain, France, China and

The issue of Iran's nuclear ambitions will dominate a
meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of Eight (G8)
industrialized nations in Moscow on Thursday. The ministers aim
to decide how best to nudge Iran to respond to the offer.

Jung said close IAEA oversight could show the world whether
Tehran's nuclear program was as peaceful as it says.

"IAEA inspections can provide those assurances through
monitoring. That is not a problem," he said.


An IAEA diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said
Jung's comments were a welcome surprise.

"If this position is not retracted or undermined by
accusations of going-it-alone, then it's real news. This view
is actually acceptable to at least some parties in all of the
six countries involved," the diplomat said.

"If we all want a negotiated solution, this is the only
realistic, sensible and reasonable way forward."

Western countries worry that Iran is trying to develop
nuclear weapons under cover of an atomic power program. Iran
says it only wants peaceful nuclear energy.

The package of incentives is conditioned on Iran forgoing
large-scale uranium enrichment for the time being and answering
outstanding questions about its program.

In order to begin negotiations on the offer, the six powers
have demanded that Iran temporarily halt all uranium enrichment
-- including small-scale work -- but Iran has so far refused.

Tehran has yet to respond to the offer and the United
States and Germany have called for an answer by the G8 summit
in July.

A meeting between EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and
Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani was pushed back
until after the G8 ministers meet, an EU diplomat in Brussels

Several EU diplomats have told Reuters that Germany would
be willing to let Iran continue enriching uranium on a small
scale if it responds positively to the incentives offer.

They said this view put Berlin at odds with Washington and
London, which insist on a full suspension of all enrichment
work for any talks to begin followed by a sustained suspension
of large-scale enrichment work for at least several years.

A British foreign office spokesman offered a terse
reaction. "The EU3 position is clear and unchanged," he said,
referring to the trio of France, Britain and Germany.

Russia and China would have no problem with allowing Iran
to keep enriching, EU diplomats say.

There was no immediate response from Tehran.

"The American position has always been that Iran ought to
be able to have the right for civilian nuclear development," a
White House spokesman said.

"We have also said, and this has been the position of the
EU3 ... that Iran must suspend uranium enrichment-related and
reprocessing activities. That has not changed."

Jung, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative
Christian Democrats, said he understood U.S. reservations but
added that a ban on Iranian enrichment work was unrealistic.

"One cannot forbid Iran from doing what other countries in
the world are doing in accordance with international law. The
key point is whether a step toward nuclear weapons is taken.
This cannot happen," he said.

(Additional reporting by Mark Heinrich in Vienna, Michael
Steen in Moscow, Paul Taylor in Brussels and Madeline Chambers
in London)