Sunday, December 26, 2004

FT.com / World / Europe - EU to begin trade talks with Iran

FT.com / World / Europe - EU to begin trade talks with Iran: "EU to begin trade talks with Iran
By Daniel Dombey in Brussels
Published: December 26 2004 20:20 | Last updated: December 26 2004 20:20

Trade talks between Iran and the European Union are set to begin on January 12 as the EU drive to improve ties with Tehran gathers pace.

France, Germany and the UK have been keen to offer Iran incentives to restrict its nuclear programme, which the US suspects is intended to develop atomic weapons. Tehran says the programme is wholly peaceful.

The talks, aimed at establishing a Trade and Co-operation Agreement between Iran and the EU, resume negotiations that were interrupted in June 2003 because of mounting international concerns about Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

Those concerns were most vocally expressed by the US, which has cast doubt on the prospects for the EU drive and has sought instead to refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council.

But in comments this month, President George W. Bush gave the EU's policy of engagement his strongest support yet and even seemed to criticise his own administration's more confrontational approach.

"We don't have much leverage with the Iranians right now," he said at a press conference last week, arguing that the US instead had to rely on the contacts that had been made by the Europeans.

"We're relying upon others, because we've sanctioned ourselves out of influence with Iran, to send a message that. . . we expect them to listen to those voices," he said. "We're a part of the universal acclaim [for the EU approach]. . . This is how we're dealing with the issue," he said. "And so diplomacy must be the first choice."

However, there are enduring doubts whether the EU can forge a lasting compromise with Iran, which has sought nuclear capacity for decades and is surrounded by enemies, many of them nuclear-armed.

The trade talks are an offshoot of three working groups set up by Iran and the EU, looking at economic, security and nuclear issues.

The groups, which were formally convened in Brussels, are expected to next meet in Tehran early next year."

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