Sunday, November 07, 2004

China's FM due in Iran Saturday

China's FM due in Iran Saturday: "China's FM due in Iran Saturday
Beijing, Nov 4, IRNA -- Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing is to pay a two-day visit to Iran on November 6, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said in Beijing on Thursday.
Liu Jianchao added Li will be visiting Iran at the official invitation of his Iranian counterpart Kamal Kharrazi, saying the visit will take place in response to a visit by Kharrazi to China last year.

Liu noted that during Li's meetings with Iranian officials, the two sides are expected to discuss bilateral relations, key regional and international developments as well as issues of mutual interest.

The foreign minister will also exchange views with senior Iranian officials on Iran's nuclear case, the spokesman, saying his country is hopeful that Iran's nuclear issue would be settled properly through the International Atomic Energy Agency.

He stated that Li's visit will boost mutual understanding and pave the way for expansion of Tehran-Beijing ties and cooperation."

Telegraph | News | Britain will not back Iran war, says Straw

Telegraph | News | Britain will not back Iran war, says Straw: "Britain will not back Iran war, says Straw
(Filed: 04/11/2004)

Britain will not back military action against Iran if President George W Bush decides to confront Tehran in his second White House term, Jack Straw has said.


Jack Straw with the Duke of Edinburgh in Germany
The Foreign Secretary rejected claims that hardliners in Mr Bush's administration could press for an attack on Iran as "inconceivable".

Mr Bush has labelled Iran as part of his "axis of evil" and has led calls for the United Nations to crack down on Tehran's alleged attempts to make nuclear weapons.

However, Mr Straw said the prospects of another conflict on top of the war on Iraq were "pretty remote" and that the international community would resolve the dispute "constructively".

"I don't see any circumstances in which military action would be justified against Iran," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Mr Straw, who is in Germany for the Queen's state visit, also described Mr Bush's re-election yesterday as an "opportunity" for Europe to heal its divisions with Washington.

Mr Bush's second term in the White House could also lead to Europe and the US making progress on several issues, particularly the Middle East peace process.

"It is in everybody's interests - including that of continental Europe - that we work together with the United States and that is what the Prime Minister Tony Blair and I and the rest of the Government will be seeking to do," he said.

20 October 2004: Iraq hampering US ability to deal with 'axis of evil'"

Visit of US Librarian to Iran 'not political'

IranMania News: "Visit of US Librarian to Iran 'not political'

Saturday, November 06, 2004 - ©2004 IranMania.com
LONDON, Nov 6 (IranMania) - The Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Friday that a visit to Iran by the chief of the US Library of Congress, James Billington, has nothing to do with politics.

“The visit took place at the invitation of the head of the National Library of Iran and within the framework of cultural cooperation between the two countries,” Hamid Reza Asefi told the Mehr News Agency.

“Since such visits are not political there is no ban on them,” Asefi stated, adding that such exchanges of visits are common.

-U.S., Iranian state libraries sign exchange accord in "non-political" act

The U.S. Library of Congress head has signed an agreement to exchange resources with the National Library of Iran during a visit to Tehran, the Iranian library's director said Friday.

"We signed a memorandum of understanding to exchange resources and experiences in library science, Islam and Iran," Mohammad Kazem Musavi Bojnurdi told AFP.

"Anyone who sees this cultural act as political is making a mistake," Bojnurdi said.

Bojnurdi said Billington "was not carrying any message and neither were we."

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on Wednesday that Billington's trip had been approved by the White House and that he and his delegation had been briefed by the State Department before they left.

"We regard cultural and scientific issues as different from politics," explained Bojnurdi.

"Neither during (late supreme leader) Imam Khomeini's time nor the supreme leader's (Ali Khamenei) have we been told to limit ourselves scientifically and culturally," he said.

In May, an American delegation returned 300 ancient Iranian tablets held for more than 70 years to Iran's National Museum.

The repatriation of the antiquities marked the first such handover by the United States since 1979.

The U.S. national Library of Congress is the world's largest and its chief is appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate."

Yahoo! News - Terror Financing Fines Fall After 9/11

Yahoo! News - Terror Financing Fines Fall After 9/11: "Terror Financing Fines Fall After 9/11

By MATT KELLEY, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - Despite the Bush administration's pledge to battle terrorist financing, the government's average penalty against companies doing business with countries listed as terrorist-sponsoring states fell sharply after the Sept. 11 attacks, an Associated Press analysis of federal records shows.

The average penalty for a company doing business with Iran, Iraq (news - web sites), North Korea (news - web sites), Sudan or Libya dropped nearly threefold, from more than $50,000 in the five years before the 2001 attacks to about $18,700 afterward, according to a computer-assisted analysis of federal records.


After the attacks, Bush grouped North Korea, Iran and Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)'s Iraq together as an "axis of evil" countries with both weapons of mass destruction and links to terrorists.


A Treasury Department (news - web sites) spokeswoman said that despite the smaller average fines, the administration was doing a good job of enforcing economic penalties against nations considered sponsors of terrorism. Molly Millerwise said the department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, "is committed to ensuring that U.S. entities abide by U.S. sanction laws. We are not in the business of making money."


The smaller average fines could indicate that companies are making fewer large deals with terrorist countries, said Adam Pener, who advises businesses on how to avoid dealing with terrorist nations.


"I would argue this is a good sign OFAC is doing its job," said Pener, chief operating officer of the Conflict Securities Advisory Group. "OFAC in a lot of ways is a deterrent. Especially in the post-9-11 era, companies are policing themselves a lot more."


Vice President Dick Cheney (news - web sites) was a vocal critic of trade embargoes while he headed Halliburton, a Houston-based oil services conglomerate, from 1995 to 2000. Under Cheney, Halliburton expanded its trade with Iran through an offshore subsidiary. That arrangement is now being investigated by a federal grand jury.


Nineteen executives or directors of companies fined by OFAC for dealing with state sponsors of terrorism were top campaign fund-raisers for Bush.


One example is Joseph J. Grano Jr., chairman of the federal Homeland Security Advisory Council, which the president created by executive order and whose members he selected. Grano formerly headed the U.S. subsidiary of the Swiss bank UBS AG. It paid more than $100 million in fines for trading U.S. currency to Iran and other nations and for transferring funds to Iraq during Saddam's rule.


Bush renewed the ban on trade with Iran in March 2001. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Treasury Department has added hundreds of names to the list of people and businesses whose U.S. assets are frozen because of suspected links to terrorism. The department also has traced terrorist financing and seized more than $200 million in terrorist assets.


OFAC is the agency that enforces U.S. restrictions on trade with drug traffickers, terrorists and countries on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism. Part of that job involves investigating and punishing companies that have outlawed transactions with such countries, organizations or individuals.


U.S. laws such as the Trading With the Enemy Act prohibit most trade with those designated countries: Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Cuba. Libya was on the list until this year, after its government agreed to disclose and dismantle its clandestine nuclear and chemical weapons programs.


The Bush administration also removed Iraq from the banned list this year after the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam.


The AP used publicly available OFAC records to compile a database of penalties paid by companies for doing business with terrorists or their state sponsors. The database includes entries for more than 500 such cases since 1996.


Analysis of the database showed average penalties for violating the embargoes fell for every terrorism-sponsoring country after the attacks:

_The average corporate penalty for doing business with Cuba was four times higher before the attacks. The pre-attack average penalty was nearly $98,000; the post-attack average was about $23,500. The State Department accuses Cuba of bankrolling some terrorist groups and sheltering members of Basque and Colombian terrorist organizations.

_Penalties for prohibited business involving Iran were nearly twice as high before the attacks. The pre-attack average penalty for an Iran transaction was more than $33,500; the post-attack average fine was about $17,300.

_Fines for trading with Iraq while Saddam was in power averaged more than $101,000 before the Sept. 11 attacks, then fell by more than a third to about $74,800 afterward.

_Companies accused of dealing with Libya paid fines averaging more than $41,000 before the attacks, a figure more than three times higher than the postattack average of about $12,800.

_There was only one fine since 2001 involving a deal with North Korea. It was for prohibited transactions from the 1990s. The State Department says North Korea shelters members of Japanese terrorist groups, although the communist North is not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the 1987 bombing of a Korean Air Lines flight by North Korean agents.

The Treasury Department previously had kept most of OFAC's fines secret. The office released documents detailing its enforcement cases in 2002 under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit and agreed to begin posting monthly lists of companies which paid penalties. That process began in April 2003.

The AP database includes all penalties detailed in those documents but does not include fines assessed for deals solely involving drug traffickers or embargoed countries not directly linked to terrorism such as Yugoslavia and Haiti.

OFAC does not release information detailing fines against individuals accused of violating the embargoes. Those fines also were not included in the AP database."

Mullahs of Iran, EU Reach an Agreement - Persian Journal Latest Iran news & Iranian Article News paper

Mullahs of Iran, EU Reach an Agreement - Persian Journal Latest Iran news & Iranian Article News paper: " Iran News

Mullahs of Iran, EU Reach an Agreement
Nov 7, 2004, 12:00

Iran and European nations reached a preliminary agreement about Iran's nuclear program at talks hoped to avoid a U.N. showdown, but all countries involved still must approve it, Iran's chief negotiator said Sunday.

If approved, the deal could be a major breakthrough following months of threats and negotiations and could spare Iran from being referred to the U.N. Security Council, where the United States has warned it would seek economic sanctions.

The preliminary agreement worked out with Britain, France and Germany could be finalized in the next few days, chief Iranian negotiator Hossein Mousavian told state-run Iranian television from Paris, where talks wrapped up Saturday.

"We had 22 hours of negotiations ... They were very difficult and complicated negotiations but we reached a preliminary agreement at the expert level," Mousavian said. "It contains the basic viewpoints of the two sides. The four countries are to take this to their capitals (for final approval)."

Mousavian said he was optimistic the preliminary agreement would be approved and, if it is, said that it would be announced in the next few days.

He did not provide further details on the agreement."

Shariatmadari Pushes Iran's export growth higher than world average

IranMania News: " 'Iran's export growth higher than world average'

Sunday, November 07, 2004 - ©2004 IranMania.com
LONDON, Nov 7 (IranMania) - Last year, Iran set a higher export growth rate compared with the world average, the Iranian Minister of Commerce, Mohammad Shariatmadari stated.

“The world range fluctuates from 5% to 12% while some countries even set negative growth”, Shariatmadari added saying that last year Iran set export growth twice the world average which has been regarded as unprecedented. “We have recorded a 68% growth in exports during the past seven years”, the Minister implied. “We should not think we could manage to achieve our goals in the global markets simply through holding prize-giving ceremonies”, he said, adding it is necessary to think of which goods and which customers before taking any action. The government has provided all requirements for policy makers and exporters, Shariatmadari uttered, underlining, “Most of the government’s work in these years was channeled into preparing the ground for optimization of export strategies.”

In order to develop the country’s export potential, infrastructural support, both theoretically and practically, are needed. “The government should reform the current management systems as well as try to attract foreign investments”, Shariatmadari stressed.

The Iranian government allocated some Rls.1000 bln for export prizes under the provisions of the yearly budget plan since 2002. “We have so far received about 60% of the amount,” the minister stated. Iranian exporters are making greater efforts in improving the quality of their products since the ministry of commerce set up prize-giving ceremonies to honor most accomplished vendors.

According to the report conducted by the Management and Planning Organization (MPO), the average GDP growth has been recorded at 5.6% during the past four years of the third economic development plan (2000-05), which is 0.2% lower than what was projected in the plan. Aside from the oil industry, Iran has set a 6% annual economic growth in the past four years of the third plan, corroborating 0.8% lower than the projections.

The report added that the service sector recorded 4.8% annual growth rate. Oil and gas industries contributed 0.4% and 5.6% to the total average growth, respectively. MPO report implied 9.8% annual VA average for the industry and mines sector during the four-year period, which is 2.2% of the total 5.6%. It has been reported as the most profit-making sector along with the service sector (2.5%).

The manpower profitability has increased 2.4% each year within the third plan, 1.1% higher than the objective. This has happened, MPO hinted, as a result of utilizing capital-intensive tactics in production.

In the same period, the investment productivity index decreased 2.2% each year while the Total Factor Productivity (TFP) index recorded 0.52% growth annually to share 9.3% in the national economic growth.

The report noted that the projected growth can be achieved through extending use of capital-intensive methods and construction projects as well as exerting structural reforms on high management systems."

IranMania News

IranMania News: " Iran is playing 'positive role' in Iraq: Kharazi

Sunday, November 07, 2004 - ©2004 IranMania.com
LONDON, Nov 7 (IranMania) - Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi dismissed on Saturday fresh allegations of interference in neighbouring Iraq, asserting that the Islamic republic was playing a "positive role" and not fuelling unrest.

"Iran is playing a positive role in Iraq, and if anyone thinks that Iran is interfering in Iraq's internal affairs they had better show their evidence," Kharazi said in a joint press conference with his Chinese counterpart Li Zhaoxing.

Kharazi said Tehran had "close relations" with both the "Iraqi people and the government", and said Iran was hoping "the interim government of Iraq will succeed in holding elections on time".

According to AFP, Kharazi's comments came after Iraqi interim prime minister Iyad Allawi urged the European Union Friday to use its influence with Syria and Iran to stop them from "fuelling violence" in his country.

"We need your help in persuading Iraq's neighbours that fuelling violence in Iraq will only damage their own security in the long term," he told EU leaders in a speech made available to the press.

"I hope that the European Union will use its relations with Syria and Iran to deliver that message in the clearest terms," he said during his lunch meeting with the EU leaders at a summit here.

Iraqi president Ghazi al-Yawar has also accused Iran of orchestrating attacks in southern Iraq and being "behind the assassination of more than 18 Iraqi intelligence officers".

The United States and a string of Iraqi officials have repeatedly accused Iran of meddling, notably by backing Shiite Muslim militants battling the occupation.

Iran has denied all allegations of interfering."

Boston.com / Along border, Kurds say, Iran gives boost to uprising Part 3

Boston.com / News / World / Middle East / Along border, Kurds say, Iran gives boost to uprising: "Along border, Kurds say, Iran gives boost to uprising
November 7, 2004

Page 3 of 3 -- When Iran still operated openly in Kurdistan, Saeed said, locals bribed Iranian officials with television sets to get visas. The PUK, he said, paid the Iranians to restrain the Islamist forces that controlled the valley stretching from Halabja to Iran. There, one group, Komala, or the Islamic Group, led by Ali Bapir, controlled the town of Khurmal. Ansar al-Islam controlled Biyara, and a third allied group, called the Islamic Movement, held Tuwella.

One Kurdish official in Tuwella, named Tahir Mustafa Ali, said the three groups should be viewed as "three wings of the same bird." Ali added that the terror groups responsible for much of the killing, hostage-taking, and bombing in Iraq, despite their different names, should similarly be viewed as part of a single network.

Iran has deep ties with many of the Iraqis who suffered under Saddam Hussein's leadership. They sheltered Kurds when Hussein attacked them with chemical weapons in 1987 and 1988, and in the south they sheltered Shi'ites who were fleeing retribution for the 1991 uprising.

And the Kurds and Shi'ites, among others, who have not secured their future in a post-Hussein Iraq, hesitate to repudiate their erstwhile ally to the west.

"They have been a friend to us," Saeed said. "We do not want to have any problem with Iran."

Daily, about 50 truckloads of legal imports stream into Iraq through this tiny border crossing above Tuwella, carrying cement and soft drinks. The illegal trade is just as important; Iraqi smugglers openly drive by the Iranian checkpoint and, farther down a dirt track, carry goods across the border on foot or by donkey.

At the border post last week, Iranian soldiers -- under the watchful eye of a Revolutionary Guard officer -- refused to speak to a reporter. "The intelligence will punish us if we talk to you," one said with a smile.

Down the dirt track, in the town of Tuwella, the local PUK chief, Ismail Ameen, said he kept his PUK membership a secret during the two years that Islamists ruled Tuwella. Just before the war, in February 2003, he saw six gray Toyota Landcruisers drive into town from the Iranian border. He said the trucks were loaded with bullets and mortar shells for Islamic Movement fighters.

"They would have run out of ammunition . . . without the supplies they got from Iran," he said.

Two top PUK security officials, and three members of the PUK's political bureau, also contended that Iran has continued to support Islamist insurgents.

Majid, head of the PUK's security agency, said that one former Ansar leader, Omar Baziani, had been caught by US forces in Baghdad six months earlier. Through interrogations, authorities heard that Baziani had crossed the border from Iran, Majid said, and had met with Zarqawi in Fallujah.

"It's easy to cross the Iranian border," Majid said. He added that the presence of Islamist terrorists in Iran, and their apparent ease in moving between the two countries, did not prove that Iran was sponsoring the groups.

According to the Kurdish officials, four former Ansar leaders have been arrested in Baghdad, Kirkuk, and the border town of Penjwin in the past six months. All four are believed to have been planning or supervising attacks.

There's a long history in the area of nations giving shelter to their enemies' enemies.

In Iraq, Hussein funded the cult-like Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen-e-Khalk.

In Iran, shelter was given to an array of Iraqi opposition groups, ranging from those considered allied with Tehran's ideology, like the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, to the secular Iraqi National Congress.

The apparent Iranian ties to mujahedeen groups operating inside Iraq only continues this long Machiavellian tradition, the Kurdish officials said.

"They work with groups like Ansar, whose ideology is so opposed to theirs, because they want to have a card to play in Iraq," Saeed said.

Thanassis Cambanis can be reached at cambanis@globe.com."

Boston.com / Along border, Kurds say, Iran gives boost to uprising part 2

Boston.com / News / World / Middle East / Along border, Kurds say, Iran gives boost to uprising: "Along border, Kurds say, Iran gives boost to uprising
November 7, 2004

Page 2 of 3 -- Tehran has said it does not allow militants to cross the border, but Iranian officials have not ruled out that Islamic fighters might be moving illegally from Iran to Iraq.

Iran's foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi, said at the time: "From the outset, Iran has tried to help Iraq overcome its problems."

But Othman, the Kurdish regional security chief, said that despite impressive internal security forces, Iran has not stopped terror groups from living and training just across the border in a group of Iranian Kurdish cities.

Othman said that Kurdish forces had arrested many members of Ansar al-Islam, including three top leaders over the last six months. Ansar al-Islam operated for two years in a cluster of villages between Halabja and Tuwella. The US government identified Ansar as a terrorist group, and believes it sheltered Abu Musab al-Zarqawi for two months before the US invasion in 2003.

According to Othman and other intelligence officials, Ansar's members have reconstituted as a new group, Ansar al-Sunni, or have joined Zarqawi. US officials have made the same claim.

According to information gleaned from questioning of the arrested Ansar members, Othman said, former Ansar fighters are now based in the Iranian border towns of Marivan (home to about 60 Kurdish Islamists), Sanandaj, Dezli (where about 30 Iranian villagers have joined the Islamist cause) and Orumiyeh (the base for up to 300 Islamists, including Gulf Arabs, Afghans and Kurds). They have a training camp in Dolanau, just a few kilometers from the Iraqi border. Three other leading officials have confirmed this.

"Iran continues its relationship with Ansar," Othman said. "They are training them how to use explosive ordnance for terrorist attacks in the south of Iraq."

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan controls the half of the region that includes the major cities of Suleimaniya and Halabja, where three powerful groups held territory from 2001 to 2003.

Its security and intelligence arm, the Asaish, has offices across Iraq, including Mosul, Baghdad, and Baquba, and has sources in centers including Fallujah, said the agency's leader, Dana Ahmed Majid. The Asaish has operated as an independent agency for more than a decade, and has worked closely with US intelligence.

Mohammed Mohammed Saeed, a peshmerga commander and the top PUK official in the region around Halabja, said that Iran regularly sends intelligence agents into Kurdistan to monitor the Kurdish peshmerga and the movements of Americans.

Iran used to have offices in Suleimaniya and Halabja until US special forces landed in the region in March 2003. But, Saeed said, the Iranians have retained their spy network inside Iraq, and are now using it to watch American forces and to help insurgents.

"The Iranians are worried," he said. "They don't want a pro-American government in Iraq. The Iranians want neighboring countries to be full of anarchy, violence, and chaos." Continued..."

Boston.com /Along border, Kurds say, Iran gives boost to uprising Part 1

Boston.com / News / World / Middle East / Along border, Kurds say, Iran gives boost to uprising: "Along border, Kurds say, Iran gives boost to uprising
By Thanassis Cambanis, Globe Staff | November 7, 2004

TUWELLA, Iraq -- A dirt track winds from this Kurdish border outpost to the top of a jagged mountain ridge separating Iran from Iraq's northern Kurdish enclave.

ADVERTISEMENT

For years, and with the blessing of Iranian officials, Islamist terrorist groups have smuggled weapons and money into Iraq on this road, many Kurdish intelligence and security officials said. When US special forces and Kurdish peshmerga fighters attacked Ansar al-Islam, an Al Qaeda affiliate, in March 2003, hundreds of its members fled to Iran, the officials said, and have regrouped in several towns just over this border.

There, they continue to train, raise funds, and plan terrorist operations in Iraq, infiltrating operatives across a porous, rocky, high-altitude border that has long been a haven for smugglers and that, in practical terms, is impossible to police, the Kurdish officials say.

Iraqi and US officials have grumbled for more than a year about what they perceive as Iranian interference in Iraq. Iran has repeatedly and forcefully denied any such interference.

But here in the mountains of Kurdistan, the Kurdish officials point to what they say are tangible footprints of Iran's collaboration with terror and insurgent groups responsible for attacks inside Iraq.

According to a half-dozen officials in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, known as the PUK, which controls the southern half of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, and commanders in the peshmerga, the force that provides security in the region, Iran has extended its network of agents inside Iraq.

Iran, the officials say, continues to aid groups like Ansar al-Islam and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's group, now named Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

Even though Iran is a Shi'ite theocracy, these officials said, it helps Sunni insurgent groups because it wants to prevent a strong unified government from taking shape in Iraq.

"They go back and forth after running missions here," said Anwar Haji Othman, head of security in the area around Halabja, including a long stretch of the Iranian border. "They bring cash from Iran to Iraq across the border."

Iran denies supporting Iraqi insurgents, and has declared its support for a peaceful, democratic Iraq. Tehran has argued that an unstable, violent neighbor would undermine Iran's security.

Iraqi and Iranian officials have met repeatedly, and have pledged to work closely on security matters.

At Iraq's request, Iran stopped tens of thousands of Iranian Shi'ite pilgrims who were flooding across the border to visit Iraq's shrine cities -- and bringing with them crime, infiltrators, and drug dealers, some Iraqi officials say.

Tensions have flared publicly. This summer, in widely repeated comments, the Iraqi defense minister, Hazem Shaalan, called Iran his country's "first enemy," and said Tehran's policies had "added fuel to the fire."

American officials have warned Iran against interfering in its neighbors affairs, but have sent mixed signals about whether they believe Iran's government is helping insurgents. Many top officials, including Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, have called Iran's activities unhelpful, but General John Abizaid emphasized in April that "there are elements within Iran that are urging patience." Continued..."

CNN.com - Provisional deal in Iran N-talks - Nov 7, 2004

CNN.com - Provisional deal in Iran N-talks - Nov 7, 2004: "Provisional deal in Iran N-talks
From CNN's Kasra Naji in Tehran
and Robin Oakley in London
Sunday, November 7, 2004 Posted: 5:56 AM EST (1056 GMT)

(CNN) -- A provisional agreement has been reached over Iran's nuclear program in talks conducted in Paris, but it must now be taken back to the capitals of Iran, Britain, Germany and France for confirmation, Iran and the EU said.

The agreement could usher in an important change in Iran's relations with Europe and much of the international community, said Iranian delegation spokesman Hussein Mousavian.

"The agreement will have to be approved at the highest levels of government," Mousavian told Iranian TV.

"My impression is that if this is approved by all four parties, we will witness an important change in Iran's relations with Europe and much of the international community in (the) not-too-distant future."

The European Union's so-called "Big Three" -- France, Germany and the United Kingdom -- have been holding their third round of talks with Iran in an effort to persuade Tehran to suspend its nuclear enrichment activities in return for improved trade and political relations.

Washington had warned Tehran that if no agreement was reached, Iran's nuclear program would be referred to the U.N. Security Council at the next meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors.

"The agreement is the outline of future cooperations between Iran and the EU in political, economic, security and confidence-building spheres," Mousavian said.

EU spokeswoman Ewa Hedlund confirmed that an agreement was reached Saturday on a "technical level," but she would not comment on details of its substance until it has the "political blessing by the governments in the four countries."

A spokesman for the French foreign ministry also confirmed the breakthrough, saying there was "considerable progress towards a provisional agreement."

Once the agreement is approved by the four capitals, expert-level talks about specific cooperation will begin.

It was not clear just how the two sides have resolved their difference over the EU demand that Iran suspend uranium enrichment activities -- something Iran has repeatedly said that it would not do for a sustained period.

Iran has said any suspension would be short-lived and only with the aim of building confidence between Tehran and the international community."

MercuryNews.com | 11/07/2004 | `Chatter' hints of strike on Iran's nuclear sites

MercuryNews.com | 11/07/2004 | `Chatter' hints of strike on Iran's nuclear sites: "`Chatter' hints of strike on Iran's nuclear sites

By Daniel Sneider


Counterterror specialists look for ``chatter'' in Islamic extremist circles preceding an attack. There is a lot of chatter going on today in Washington -- only this time, it is about an American attack on Iran.

In seminars and hallways, there is eager anticipation of an airstrike against Iran's nuclear facilities. Sure, the talk goes, we may not get all those buried nuclear labs. But a few waves of cruise missiles and bombers will set Iran's program back several years, enough time to pursue regime change in Tehran.

The Iran buzz is loud enough to have prompted an unusual statement by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on Thursday that any attack on Iran would be ``inconceivable.'' In a message meant for Washington and for countrymen nervous about joining yet another war, Straw added: ``I don't see any circumstances in which military action would be justified against Iran, full stop.''

Package of concessions

Straw spoke as negotiators from Britain, France and Germany were about to meet in Paris with the Iranians. The Europeans are offering a package of concessions, from trade to nuclear power plants, to get Iran to agree to an indefinite suspension of its program to enrich uranium.

The ability to enrich uranium is not in itself proof of a nuclear weapons program but it would put Iran only months away from being able to build a bomb. Iranian leaders, while denying any interest in nuclear weapons, portray the enrichment program as a matter of national security.

``The centers of global power, who wish to monopolize the entire world, are opposed to any development which helps a nation to achieve national independence, self-reliance and national strength,'' Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said at Friday prayers in Tehran.

Despite the tough talk, however, Iran's negotiators have hinted they may be ready for suspension of their program, though not indefinitely.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, was eagerly awaiting the outcome of those talks -- still ongoing at press time. He is currently drafting a status report on Iran's nuclear program, to be issued Nov. 12, ahead of an IAEA meeting Nov. 25. The report will confirm that Iran has been experimenting with all phases of the nuclear fuel cycle but that there is still no concrete evidence of a link to a weapons program.

Bush administration hard-liners are dismissive of ElBaradei and of the European-led talks. They expect the talks to fail -- while refusing repeated entreaties from ElBaradei and the Europeans to directly engage the Iranians. They aim to head to the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions against Iran.

But the case against Iran is far from clear and unlikely to gain full support, including from Russia and China. If the sanctions bid fails however, those Bush officials will argue that the United Nations has once again wilted in the face of a proliferation threat, a la Iraq.

ElBaradei continues to trust President Bush's assurances, given to him personally, that the United States sees only a diplomatic solution to this problem.

But he did not hesitate, in an address delivered Thursday to Stanford University's Center for International Security and Cooperation, to draw sharp lines with the Bush administration.

Lessons of Iraq

ElBaradei pointedly laid out the lessons of Iraq. ``The first point to be made is that the inspections were working,'' he said. That is confirmed, he argued, by the report issued by the administration's Iraq Survey Group, confirming the IAEA's conclusion before the war began that the Iraqi nuclear program was shut down.

``The second point to be made is that we need to exercise maximum restraint before resorting to military force,'' he continued. ``The Iraq experience should tell us that unless extreme conditions exist to justify pre-emptive action against a suspected weapons-of-mass-destruction program, diplomacy in all its forms, including maximum pressure, coupled with credible verification, should be the primary avenue of choice.''

The next few weeks will probably determine what the avenue of choice will be with Iran. We hope every diplomatic option will be fully explored. But if Iran fails to reach a deal with the IAEA and the Europeans, the chatter favoring a military solution will rise to a din.

DANIEL SNEIDER is foreign-affairs columnist for the Mercury News. His column appears on Sunday and Thursday. You can contact him at dsneider@mercurynews.com."