Analysis: How Europe persuaded the US to temper its hostility to Tehran

Click to follow

Two moments stand out in Europe's attempts to persuade the US to end almost three decades of hostility towards Iran, which culminated with yesterday's presentation of a package to Tehran in hopes that the Iranians will agree to curb their nuclear ambitions.

The first was Condoleezza Rice's first trip to Europe as Secretary of State in February last year, when she was made aware of the European depth of concern that the Bush administration might be prepared to use military action against Iran. She returned to Washington and persuaded President George Bush to back the diplomatic drive by Britain, France and Germany aimed at coaxing Iran to suspend its nuclear programme by offering incentives.

The second was a dinner of the Security Council big powers at the Waldorf Astoria in New York on 8 May, when the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, smarting from criticism of the Kremlin by the US Vice-President Dick Cheney, made it clear to Ms Rice that the Russians would not countenance any threat of UN sanctions against Iran.

While Britain, Germany, France, Russia and possibly even China believe that Iran intends to pursue nuclear research to the point where it could develop a weapon, Russia and China disagreed with the strategy outlined by the Americans. The Russians warned of the dangers of an Iraq-style scenario in which failure at the Security Council could be used as a pretext for war.

Facing the collapse of the international coalition that Ms Rice had been attempting to build, the Americans were forced to rethink. Days later, Ms Rice offered Iran the first talks with the US in 27 years by agreeing to join the negotiating table - on condition that Iran suspends its uranium enrichment programme. Those concessions were spelt out in Tehran yesterday by Javier Solana, the European security chief.

The former foreign secretary Jack Straw may feel vindicated over his opinion that military action against Iran was "inconceivable".