(www.latwp.com) вЂ" Iran is quietly accelerating efforts to negotiate a deal on its nuclear program, using this week's agreement to freeze North Korea's program as a model.
In this week's pact, the Bush administration signed a deal that provides significant incentives to North Korea even before that country completely stepped back from its nuclear weapons program. The administration's willingness to do that seems likely to harden Iran's demands that it, too, should receive tangible benefits as part of any agreement, analysts here say, reports Trend.
Those benefits could include guarantees for the security of Iran's government, an end to years of economic sanctions and the right to continue developing modern, peaceful nuclear technology.
At the same time, some hard-liners in Iran appear to want to use North Korea's example as an opportunity to toughen Iran's demands in the expectation that the U.S. will eventually be obligated to meet them.
Some U.S. conservatives have criticized the deal with North Korea, predicting it would encourage Iran and other nations that are considering nuclear programs. In a news conference Wednesday, President Bush dismissed such criticism by his former U.N. ambassador, John R. Bolton.
``I strongly disagree. Strongly disagree with his assessment,'' Bush said. ``I have told the American people, like the Iranian issue, I wanted to solve the Korean issue -- North Korean issue -- peacefully, and that the president has an obligation to try all diplomatic means necessary to do so.''
``So the assessment made by some that this is not a good deal is just flat wrong.''
But the debate here now appears to focus on how hard Iran should push for favorable terms. ``The hard-liners, perhaps impressed by North Korea's achievement, are now inclined to be more resilient and more uncompromising,'' Sadegh Zibakalam, professor of politics at Tehran University, said Wednesday.
``They say if North Korea could do it, why shouldn't we? Why should we let the United States dictate to us, rather than negotiate with us?''
Until this week's pact, U.S. officials had insisted that North Korea dismantle all its nuclear programs and fully disarm before any deal could be reached. But in the end, North Korea agreed only to begin disabling its nuclear facilities in exchange for about $400 million in aid and other incentives. For now, the North Koreans will keep the nuclear material they already have, which U.S. officials believe is enough to make 8 to 10 bombs.
North Korea's situation is different from Iran's in several respects. North Korea has built and tested a nuclear bomb. Iran insists its program is strictly for civilian power generation. While U.S. and other international leaders doubt that Iranian claim, most intelligence officials believe Iran is at least two years away from being able to build a nuclear weapon.
A U.N. Security Council resolution passed in December with strong backing from the U.S. demands a full halt to Iran's uranium-enrichment activities.
Iran has signaled it might be willing to compromise on enrichment, either by limiting it, temporarily suspending it, or operating its centrifuges for a time with an inert gas, rather than uranium. Iranian negotiators insist real movement can be achieved only through open negotiations without preconditions.
But while hard-liners believe Iran can tough it out against the U.S., a broad range of the political elite in Iran is now behind an effort by Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, to reach a compromise.
``This scenario has been at the back of the minds of some Iranian leaders: that if we reach a stage that we would be respected as an equal partner, then we could do real negotiations and reach a deal over our nuclear program,'' Zibakalam said.
A source familiar with the negotiations said Iran has a four-part package that includes security guarantees, continued access to nuclear technology, and certain ``political and economic'' guarantees.
Nonproliferation experts suggested that these would include a demand for dropping the U.N. sanctions and possibly the unilateral sanctions which the U.S. has had in place against Iran since shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution.