Monday, May 05, 2008

The Not-so-new Package of Incentives

On May 2, Britain, China, France, Germany, U.S. and Russia (the so-called Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany or P5+1) announced they would offer a “new package of incentives” to Iran meant to convince the country to abandon its nuclear enrichment activities. Though the text of the package has not been revealed, all press reports indicate that the package is not so “new” and not much has changed from previous offers to Iran. If the “new package of incentives” does not include U.S.-backed security assurances and if it does contain any precondition before negotiations can begin, then it is not an offer Iran is likely to accept.

According to diplomats familiar with the process, the “package of incentives” has been “refreshed” from the last offer delivered in May 2006 to include enhanced nuclear cooperation. According to one U.S. official, Russia and China had pushed for “troublesome” additions to the package, including “more political facilitation” and “more flexibility on certain aspects of nuclear cooperation,” but these were not included.

It is still unclear when the “new package of incentives” will be delivered to Iran as well as it is unclear who will deliver it and who it will be delivered to on the Iranian side. It is also unknown whether this package of incentives will have a deadline for response as the May 2006 offer did. Although U.S. officials accuse Iran of rejecting the offer before it has even been delivered, Iran has neither received nor responded to the “new package of incentives.”

Iran officially maintains it will not suspend uranium enrichment activities. Though he did not specifically mention the nuclear program, in a speech given in Fars Province on May 4, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said “threats will not force the Iranian nation to retreat” and stated, “Have you not tested the Iranian nation? We will forcefully continue on our path and will not allow the oppressors to step on our rights.” Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said he warned British Foreign Minister David Miliband when they recently met at a multilateral meeting on Iraq in Kuwait not to cross any “red lines” in preparing an offer to Iran.

If the P5+1 wants the incentives package to truly entice Iran to the negotiating table, then it should drop preconditions requiring Iran suspend uranium enrichment before talks can even begin. This precondition only undermines the sincerity of the offer to enter into talks that are aimed at achieving the precondition. Any serious “new package of incentives” offered by the P5+1 must also include U.S.-backed security assurances it will not attack Iran. Without these measures, the “new package of incentives” remains a vapid gesture that Iran is not likely to accept.

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