U.S., Europe Agree On Iran Path

The Bush administration will support European diplomatic efforts to end Iran's purported nuclear weapons ambitions by offering modest economic incentives to the Tehran regime.

The administration agreed to drop objections to Iran's eventual membership in the World Trade Organization and agreed to allow some sales of civilian aircraft parts to Tehran, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday.

Rice said in a statement that the administration will consider allowing the spare parts sales on a case-by-case basis. Many of the sales would be from European Union countries.

"We share the desire of European governments to secure Iran's adherence to its obligations through peace and diplomatic means," the secretary said, referring to Iran's commitments under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The announcement marks a policy shift from the hard line position that Iran deserved no reward for merely doing what that international arms compact requires.

"Today's announcement demonstrates that we are prepared to take practical steps to support European efforts to this end," Rice said.

There was no immediate response from Tehran.

Rice noted that the Europeans have been very clear with the Iranians that there will have to be certain "objective guarantees" that Iran is not trying to use a nuclear program to provide cover for a weapons program.

"The spotlight must remain on Iran, and on Iran's obligation to live up to its international commitments," she said.

Rice said the United States shares with European governments concern about human rights and democracy and its support for terrorism.

"At this moment of historic opportunity, as the U.S. and our allies work together to support progress between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Iran must cease its support for those groups who use violence to oppose Middle East peace," she said.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan, traveling with President George W. Bush inside the country, said the United States wanted to support European diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to drop its program and "will not object" to Iran's application for membership in the WTO.

Echoing Rice, McClellan also told reporters that the United States would also be "willing to consider permitting spare aircraft (parts) be provided to Iran for civilian aircraft."

He said European allies share U.S. concerns about Iran's behavior "on other areas," including Tehran's "support of terrorism and how that is playing a destabilizing role in the Middle East peace process."

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said there is no deadline for the success of the European talks, but stressed that Iran could still face U.N. Security Council sanctions if it does not comply with the nuclear treaty.

The European Union warned Tehran explicitly about possible U.N. action Friday.

"We shall have no choice but to support referring Iran's nuclear program to the U.N. Security Council," said a confidential EU document obtained by The Associated Press.

The shift came about in recent weeks, as Bush and Rice received personal assurances that the European countries negotiating with Tehran over its nuclear program are firmly committed to stopping any weapons program there, senior administration officials said Friday.

A dinner Rice held in London with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and counterparts from Britain, France and Germany was a key turning point, one official said on condition of anonymity. At that March 1 dinner, the Europeans told Rice they would hold Iran to its obligations not to use civilian nuclear power programs to hide weapons research and development, and that the Europeans would support an international effort to invoke United Nations Security Council sanctions if Iran reneged, the official said.

The European countries wanted U.S. support on the theory that a united front was most likely to persuade Iran to comply. So long as the United States remained apart, Iran would delay meaningful steps to end its nuclear program, the Europeans argued.

They also argued that the United States risked looking like the odd man out if the Europeans did win a nonproliferation deal. The Europeans urged the United States to join the talks, but the Bush administration wanted to remain at arm's length from Iran.

Iran and the United States have not had diplomatic relations since 1979, when Iranian militants occupied the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held its staff hostage.