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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
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The foreign policy chief of the European Union will be in Tehran this weekend, there for another round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. The E.U., with American, Russian and Chinese backing, is expected to offer Iran an enhanced package of incentives aimed at ending Iran's effort to enrich uranium. Iran's leaders have rejected such offers in the past and there is little sign they're inclined to change their position now.
NPR's Mike Shuster has more.
MIKE SHUSTER: For over two years the European Union has been trying to entice Iran to stop enriching uranium. Each time the Iranians meet with the E.U.'s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, the offers get sweeter: better trade deals, access to more sophisticated technology, more generous support for a civilian nuclear power program. What does Iran have to do in exchange? Suspend its uranium enrichment program, which could produce the essential component for nuclear weapons but which the Iranians insist this for purely non-military purposes.
The U.S. is backing the European initiative for Iran but no American diplomat will be part of the delegation visiting Tehran this weekend. Iran was at the top of President Bush's agenda in Europe this week. Speaking in Germany, the president said Solana was offering Iran a better choice with one big caveat.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: My first choice, of course, is to solve this diplomatically. All options are on the table.
SHUSTER: The president offered that last observation on his own without being prompted, and it should be read as a warning, says Gary Sick, an expert on Iran at Columbia University.
Professor GARY SICK (Columbia University): But he says all the options are on the table, what he really means is the military options are on the table, but most of the strong negotiating options that we have available to us like lifting some or all of the sanctions, giving some kind of assurances on security to Iran, all of these positive things that we could do are not on the table.
SHUSTER: Gary Sick argues that as long as any offer to Iran comes with the precondition that it must stop enriching uranium, there is little chance of success.
Prof. SICK: This whole package is kind of mission impossible, if that's the precondition.
SHUSTER: Throughout this European uranium diplomatic dance, Iranian scientists continue to make advances in their ability to enrich uranium. At the same time, the price of oil keeps rising, helping Iran to immunize itself from the effect of economic sanctions, imposed both by the U.S. unilaterally and by the U.N. Security Council, says Abbas Milani, director of Iran Studies at Stanford University.
Professor ABBAS MILANI (Stanford University): Under less optimal circumstances with the regime, they weren't very keen on accepting this. I don't know why anyone would imagine that they will accept it now.
Mr. KARIM SADJADPOUR (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): I really think that the Europeans are just going through the motions here.
SHUSTER: Karim Sadjadpour follows Iran for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
Mr. SADJADPOUR: Even Solana deep down himself has no illusions that he's going to present this offer and the Iranians are going to accept it.
SHUSTER: Sadjadpour believes that although the Europeans genuinely would like to find some way to persuade Iran to stop enriching uranium, they are also greatly concerned about what actions the U.S. or Israel might take on there own.
Mr. SADJADPOUR: The Europeans are in a very delicate position because on one hand they certainly don't want to see Iran made forward progress towards a nuclear weapons capability. On the other hand, they're very concern about the prospect of a U.S. military strike on Iran.
SHUSTER: Talk of the military strike seems to run in cycles and right now it's intensifying. At the same time, the U.S. and the Europeans are threatening even more economic sanctions against Iran, possibly targeting Iran's substantial imports of gasoline. Abbas Milani believes that Iran could weather even that.
Prof. MILANI: With the regime's economy being driven by oil, with the oil being where it is, I think they can buy their way out of many of these difficulties.
SHUSTER: And indeed, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sounded as confident as ever this week, despite renewed talk of sanctions and military strikes.
President MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD (Iran): (Speaking foreign language)
SHUSTER: President's Bush's era is over, Ahmadinejad said. His dream of doing harm to Iran is unrealized. He still wonders if he could something to harm our nation, Ahmadinejad continued; I tell him that his era has come to an end.
Mike Shuster, NPR News.
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