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Europeans Meet to Hammer Out Iran Nuclear Deal

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

European foreign ministers are in Brussels today to discuss a number of issues, including how to reign in Iran's nuclear ambitions. The U.N. Security Council last week agreed to give European countries more time to work on a diplomatic solution before moving forward with possible sanctions against Iran. The foreign ministers are expected to discuss a list of incentives designed to entice Iran to put an end to its uranium enrichment activities.

NPR's Rachel Martin is covering the meeting and joins me now from Brussels. Hello.

RACHEL MARTIN reporting:

Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Tell us more about how we got to this point and what is this list of incentives supposed to achieve.

MARTIN: Well, as you mentioned, the discussions today come on the heels of a meeting last week between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her counterparts from the members of the U.N. Security Council. And out of those talks came a decision to allow the so-called, EU3--France, Britain and Germany--to continue their efforts to pursue a diplomatic strategy with this package of incentives. And these incentives--Iran could accept them, but they would have to put a stop to all their uranium enrichment programs.

This isn't replacing efforts by the Security Council to move ahead with its own efforts to take a stronger tact. The U.S. continues to lead a push to get a binding resolution, and that would pave the way for economic sanctions or even military action.

MONTAGNE: What is likely to be included in this incentives package?

MARTIN: EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, today, spoke with reporters and said the package would be a mixed bag of political and economic incentives, which could include things like increased trade benefits with Europe, a variety of assistance with Iran's civilian nuclear program, perhaps, even a plan to allow some western countries to build nuclear power plants in Iran.

But Solana made sure to reiterate that the EU has nothing against Iran having nuclear capabilities, as long as they're devoted to strictly energy production for civilian purposes.

MONTAGNE: And, how likely is Iran to accept these incentives?

MARTIN: Well, considering this package is being built off of a similar deal that was presented to the Iranians last August, which they turned down, it's not likely. A whole lot hasn't changed since then. Diplomats I've spoken to say they're some extra sweeteners in this package, but it's still very tenuous. Until now, the diplomatic strategy has really been to isolate Iran from the international community, hoping that, eventually, it would be too much for Iran to take and they would concede, but that hasn't happened, and quite the opposite.

Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's rhetoric against the west, and particularly the United States, has increased, and he continues to underscore what he says are Iran's fundamental rights to develop a nuclear program that he says is purely civilian. And, over the weekend, during a meeting in Indonesia with leaders of Muslim countries, Ahmadinejad said Iran would not accept any incentives that would require it to stop its nuclear activities, and he called that a clear violation of the rights he says are enshrined in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty.

MONTAGNE: And, just briefly, what happens next?

MARTIN: We go now to a meeting on Friday with the U.N. Security Council. Again, this is happening in tandem with efforts by the Council to, perhaps, draft a binding resolution that could pave the way for sanctions. So these two plans are coming together in tandem. Officials at the EU want to put their incentive package to Iran in the coming weeks, but at the same time, will wait and see what comes out of the meeting on Friday and the Security Council's...

MONTAGNE: Right.

MARTIN: ...decision to move forward with possible sanctions.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Rachel Martin in Brussels, where European foreign ministers are meeting for more discussions on Iran's nuclear program. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Rachel Martin
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.