Page last updated at 23:33 GMT, Friday, 13 June 2008 00:33 UK

Solana expects no miracle in Iran

By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

Javier Solana
Can EU foreign policy representative Javier Solana persuade Iran to agree?

A new diplomatic effort is being made this weekend to resolve the problem of Iran's uranium enrichment.

A delegation led by the EU's foreign policy representative Javier Solana will meet senior Iranian officials in Tehran and present them with a new offer.

It will propose that if Iran suspends the enrichment of uranium and opens negotiations, then UN sanctions against Iran will be suspended, and a package of help will be available for Iran to develop a civil nuclear power industry.

This would include the transfer of technology, a guarantee of fuel for nuclear power, and other trade and political benefits.

An accompanying letter - signed by the foreign ministers of the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - indicates that Iran faces further sanctions if it refuses to co-operate.

The mission is being seen as a final attempt to negotiate a solution. If it fails, then talk of a military strike on Iran might increase.

Attempt to influence the debate

"We want to take the debate to the Iranian leadership and explain the choice it is facing," said a senior British official. "We are serious about negotiating and it is time for them to get serious, too.

I don't expect miracles, but I think it's important for us to continue extending also a hand, therefore to make clear that we have a double track approach
Javier Solana

"If Iran is serious about persuading the international community that its intentions are peaceful, it should suspend enrichment and negotiate. It is very clear that the international community has no confidence that Iran does not want to develop nuclear weapons."

However he added: "I am not optimistic this trip will be successful but it is an important opportunity to test Iran's leadership."

The official predicted that there would be new EU sanctions against Iran "by the end of July" if this effort failed. Observers think these measures would be directed against the operations of Iranian banks in the EU.

The countries dealing with the issue believe a debate is under way in Iran between pragmatists and hardliners, and that the new offer may influence the outcome.

Obstacles to success

Frankly the chances of success appear small.

President Ahmadinejad of Iran
Iran's president has insisted on Iran's right to enrich

To start with, the offer itself, which will be made public at a news conference in Tehran on Sunday, seems to be simply an improved version of the one made in 2006 - which Iran rejected.

Mr Solana will have senior diplomats from Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany with him, but not the United States. Washington has said that it will deal directly with Iran only if and when negotiations start.

The US absence weakens the delegation. The Iranians might further feel they should wait until the result of the American presidential election is known.

And warnings of increased sanctions are unlikely to impress the Iranians. They have ignored three rounds of sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council already. The increase in oil prices also gives Iran an extra cushion against their economic impact.

Mr Solana himself has said: "I don't expect miracles, but I think it's important for us to continue extending also a hand, therefore to make clear that we have a double track approach."

Another factor at work here is that Russia and China - cautious about imposing more sanctions, yet also determined to try to get Iran to comply - want this diplomatic initiative in order to show that everything possible is being done. Western governments are therefore going along with it.

Iranian attitudes

As for Iran, the indications are that there will be no change.

The Tehran Times has quoted an Iranian MP, Hossein Sobhani-Nia, as saying that the Solana visit "can be constructive because the two sides will have the opportunity to remove ambiguities about Iran's nuclear case".

What he probably means is that the Solana delegation should accept Iran's case, which is that it is doing no more or less than exercising its rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to enrich its own fuel.

Iran has repeatedly stated that it has no intention of making a nuclear weapon.

Iran is also reported to have proposed its own solution - enriching uranium through a joint international venture on its own soil.

But that leaves too much leeway for Iran for it to be acceptable to the contact countries.

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