Europe, U.S. seek review of Iran's nuclear program

Thursday, June 26, 2003

WASHINGTON -- European leaders Wednesday joined President Bush in demanding stronger international inspections of Iran's nuclear program, and said they would act to intercept "illegal shipments" of materials that can be used to develop weapons of mass destruction.

A joint statement issued at the end of an annual U.S.-European Union summit pledged to use "all means available" to halt the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. It singled out North Korea and Iran as the most significant proliferation threats facing the world.

At a White House news conference after the meeting, Bush said the "free world" expected Iran to comply with demands that it agree to intrusive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog. "Iran must comply," he told reporters.

Suspicious reports

U.S. suspicions that Iran is developing nuclear weapons have been strengthened over the past few weeks by a recent IAEA report describing a range of efforts by Tehran to produce fissile materials that could be used for the construction of a nuclear weapon. The Iranian government insists that its nuclear research program is for peaceful purposes only, but has failed to explain why it needs nuclear power when it has plentiful supplies of oil and natural gas.

For the time being, the Bush administration has settled on a strategy of attempting to mobilize international opinion against the Tehran government, and working through multilateral institutions to put a stop to the suspected Iranian nuclear weapons program. Bush's comments Wednesday suggested that he could be prepared to consider tougher measures if Iran fails to cooperate with the IAEA.

One option under consideration in Washington is to enforce international regulations prohibiting trade in weapons of mass destruction by intercepting ships and planes suspected of carrying illegal cargoes. A senior State Department official, John Bolton, flew to Madrid earlier this month to meet with representatives of a dozen other countries to consider ways of strengthening "interdiction" efforts.

Last December, Spain cooperated with the United States in boarding a ship chartered by North Korea to deliver Scud missiles to Yemen. Protests by the Yemen government, which has cooperated with the United States' war on terrorism, quickly resulted in the release of the cargo. Despite this embarrassing climbdown, U.S. officials point to the successful interception as a model for future such efforts.

An administration official described as "encouraging" the willingness of European leaders to sign a statement on behalf of the 16-member European Union endorsing the evolving U.S. strategy on interdiction. " I don't want to oversell this, but we have something we can work with," said one official. "It was the first time they used the word 'interdiction.'"

In addition to a pledge to "share information'' on the illegal weapons trade, the statement also promised to "strengthen identification, control and interdiction of illegal shipments."

``When Europe and the United States are united, no problem and no enemy can stand against us,'' said Romano Prodi, president of the European

Commission, at a joint news conference with Bush. ``If we fail to unite, every problem may become a crisis and every enemy a gigantic monster.''

U.S. and European officials also signed updated extradition and legal assistance agreements at a ceremony in the Justice Department, authorizing joint

investigative teams and simplified legal procedures for extraditing suspects. Officials said that the show of unity was designed in part to heal the divisions

caused by the war with Iraq, which was opposed by many European governments.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: