German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung's suggestion
that Iran should be allowed to carry out a limited enrichment program under
the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has exposed
a fundamental crack in the façade of unity among the six countries that
have given Iran a proposal aimed at halting all its enrichment activities.
The United States immediately insisted that the German government had told
it the story, reported by Reuters on June 28, was "erroneous." However,
Bonn never retracted Jung's statement, although it reiterated its support for
the proposal to Iran from the five permanent UN Security Council members plus
Germany (P5 + 1).
The proposal offers a number of economic incentives in return for Iranian suspension
enrichment and lists possible economic measures against Iran if refuses. It
allows a return to enrichment in the indefinite future only with Security Council
The episode highlights the fears of many in Europe that the present refusal
by the P5 + 1 to compromise on the enrichment issue will produce the opposite
outcome an unrestrained and unmonitored Iranian enrichment program
In an interview with Reuters last week, Jung was asked if Iran should be allowed
to enrich uranium under the scrutiny of the Vienna-based IAEA. He answered,
"I think so."
Jung said he understood U.S. reservations about allowing any enrichment activities,
but added, "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," Jung said.
Jung said close IAEA oversight could show the world whether Tehran's nuclear
program was as peaceful as it says, according to Reuters. "IAEA inspections
can provide those assurances through monitoring," he was quoted as saying.
"That is not a problem."
U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the following day that the
German government had been contacted about the interview and had told the United
States, "This is an erroneous story."
But German government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm neither denied nor renounced
Jung's position. Instead he told Reuters that Germany stood behind the June
6 offer to Iran.
Jung's expressed willingness to allow enrichment by Iran nevertheless puts
Germany sharply at odds with the George W. Bush administration and its British
and French allies, which are determined to demand a complete halt to all Iranian
uranium enrichment activities.
It also departs dramatically from the position represented in the formal proposal
from the P5 +1 given to the Iranians on June 6.
That proposal, which has not been made public, was based on the premise that
IAEA inspections cannot be relied on to indicate whether or not Iran's nuclear
program is being used for weapons development. The proposal would not permit
any enrichment activities until the six powers themselves are prepared to allow
As reported by the New York Times on June 8, the six powers had reached
an understanding among themselves that, even if Iran's nuclear program were
to be given the IAEA seal of approval, Tehran could not resume enrichment unless
the Security Council votes unanimously to permit it.
A senior European official was quoted by the Times as saying, "The
package does not say that if the IAEA gives Iran a clean bill of health that
it will be the end of the moratorium. It simply means we will reexamine it."
That would deprive the more objective IAEA of any role in judging Iran's good
faith and give the United States a veto power over Iran's enrichment program.
The Bush administration is well known to have no intention of allowing Iran
to have any enrichment under any circumstances.
A European official who asked not to be identified told IPS on June 29 that
the Iranians are well aware that the proposal would give the United States a
veto power over any Iranian resumption of enrichment.
"The Iranians see it as a trap," the official said. "They would
like to discuss the veto power of the United States over the question of confidence-building."
Until Jung's interview, the six countries behind the June 6 proposal to Iran
had been careful not to say anything suggesting disagreements until Iran had
replied. But it has become increasingly clear in recent weeks that Iran will
not accept the P5 + 1 suspension demand.
Jung's call for a compromise indicates a high level of concern in Bonn that
the P5 + 1 position on enrichment will create a dangerous diplomatic impasse.
The United States, Britain, and France appear poised to initiate a move for
a tough Security Council resolution if Iran does not respond positively to the
proposal by mid-July. On June 28, Reuters quoted a Western diplomat as saying
that, if Iran does not produce a firm pledge to do so by July 12, the coalition
would "dust off a Security Council resolution we had been looking into
to make a suspension mandatory."
Both Russia and China have publicly opposed sanctions against Iran. Germany
has said it has not ruled out economic sanctions but has never committed itself
to that course.
If the six powers fail to negotiate a compromise with Iran in the coming months,
Iran may proceed with an enrichment program that would not be constrained either
by international agreement or by strict IAEA monitoring.
Iranian officials have offered on several occasions since March 2005 to negotiate
an agreement that would limit the number of centrifuges that Iran could use
to enrich uranium and place the program under the strictest possible IAEA monitoring.
Those proposals were dismissed officially by Britain, France, and Germany.
If Iran were limited by an agreement to the 164 centrifuges currently in use,
the U.S. State Department has calculated that it would take a little over 13
years to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon.
But in April, Iran informed the IAEA that it plans to construct 3,000 centrifuges
at Natanz by April 2007. Once Iran masters a 3,000-centrifuge cascade, it would
be able to produce enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon within 271 days,
according to the U.S. calculations.
Some EU officials, including the Germans, have long believed that the EU3
France, England, and Germany would have to eventually agree to a limited
enrichment program. Last October, an unnamed European official who had been
involved in the negotiations with Iran said in an interview with the Brussels-based
International Crisis Group, "In the end, we are going to have to move further
and put more creative ideas on the table, and a supervised, strictly limited
enrichment scheme on Iranian soil may be one of them."
The Bush administration appears bent on maintaining a confrontation with Iran
that precludes any compromise on enrichment. But the Jung interview suggests
that there will be frantic efforts in the coming weeks by some in the coalition
to head off a diplomatic disaster on Iran's nuclear program.
(Inter Press Service)