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Europe

Europe’s Big Three Defy U.S. over Iran

Diplomats confirm Germany, France and Britain broke with the United States last month by offering Iran technological cooperation in exchange for stopping its nuclear program and accepting tougher U.N. inspections.

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As head of the IAEA, Mohamed El Baradei will be taking a close look at Iran.

In the discussion over Europe’s position on Iraq, Germany, France and Britain diverge on several points. But when it comes to Iran and the question of the country’s nuclear program, the three European powerhouses line up side by side, much to the dismay of the United States which has come to rely on Britain as its staunchest ally in Europe and has pinpointed Iran on its "axis of evil."

On Friday western diplomats confirmed that despite intense lobbying from Washington, Berlin, Paris and London had sent a letter to Tehran earlier in the month trying to persuade the Iranian government to accept in-depth inspections of its nuclear facilities. Although sent prior to last week’s resolution by the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) calling for Iran to answer all outstanding questions about its nuclear fuel enrichment program by October 31, the essence of the letter remains unchanged, say the foreign ministries from the three countries.

According to sources at the IAEA in Vienna, the letter urged Iran to agree to inspections by the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog and held out the prospect of technological cooperation on developing a civilian nuclear energy program should Tehran sign, implement and ratify the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Such a European gesture goes against the United States’ position on Iran, which regards the country as a threat and sees its civilian nuclear program as a cover for developing weapons of mass destruction.

A carrot for nuclear deal

Although British officials have downplayed suggestions that Iran had been offered a "quid pro quo," something the U.S. government had adamantly rejected, the Financial Times says the letter highlights a widening gulf between European foreign policy which is committed to engagement with the Islamic Republic and the United States which is sticking to a course of isolation.

IAEA officials familiar with the letter told Reuters Washington considered it "not very clever" and a mixed signal. "They were worried it ran the risk of splitting Europe and America on this issue," the sources said, "and they attempted to dissuade them from sending the letter."

A spokesman for the German foreign ministry denied offering Iran a carrot in the letter and said German, French and British interests were reflected in the IAEA resolution from last week. The French foreign ministry told reporters the letter had merely requested Iran to send a "clear signal" and sign the NPT.

Cleric says Iran must quit NPT

A leading Iranian cleric said on Friday Iran should consider quitting the NPT after the IAEA set an ultimatum for Iran to prove it is not developing nuclear weapons. Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, head of the powerful Guardian Council, said the IAEA resolution was an "extraordinary humiliation" and called on the Tehran government to reject it.

"What is wrong with not accepting this [NPT] treaty. North Korea pulled out of it and many countries have never entered it," Jannati told worshippers during prayers at Tehran University.

Iran’s conservatives regard the international inspections of its nuclear facilities as tantamount to allowing spies into the country and should be refused. The reformist government of President Mohammad Khatami, however, has said it will continue to negotiate with the IAEA and will not pull out of the NPT.

On August 18, Khatami wrote an open letter to European leaders, including EU president Italy, pledging that Iran would not divert its civilian nuclear program for military purposes. But European leaders wonder if the reformist, who is locked into a power struggle with hardline clerics, actually has effective control over the nuclear program.