EU tells Iran to accept nuclear monitoring

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The Independent Online

The European Union fell into line with the United States yesterday, warning Iran to accept tough new nuclear inspections and saying it might back the use of force against countries stockpiling weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

In a shift to a more hardline position, EU foreign ministers sent a firm warning to the Iranian government and made a second declaration designed to bring them closer to Washington on the issue of how to deal with security threats. Yesterday's statement linked completion of an EU-Iran trade deal with a change of policy from the government in Tehran over nuclear inspections.

The move reflects growing fears that international controls over nuclear non-proliferation are crumbling and that Iran could be at the head of a new push among states in the Middle East to go nuclear.

At the gathering of foreign ministers in Luxembourg, Iran was asked to sign an additional international protocol "urgently and unconditionally" committing it not to make nuclear weapons, and to accept tougher United Nations inspections of nuclear sites. In Vienna, the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) discussed a harsh report by the director general, Mohammed al-Baradei, in which he said Tehran had "failed to report certain nuclear material and activities", but was making amends. He urged Iran to sign an Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty with the IAEA, granting its monitors wider access and more intrusive, short-notice inspections.

With American pressure on the regime in Tehran growing, yesterday's EU declaration marks a hardening of policy. President George Bush has welcomed the popular demonstrations against the Iranian government.

Officials accepted that there had been a change of emphasis from the European Commission, which has previously laid more stress on the importance of dialogue with Iran, and of encouraging reformers within its government. Trade between the EU and Iran amounts to about €13bn (£9.2bn) a year, making Europe Iran's main trading partner.

Yesterday the EU said "deepening of economic and commercial relations between the EU and Iran should be matched by similar progress" in other areas such as human rights, non-proliferation, anti-terrorism and the Middle East peace process.

In its second declaration the EU also backed the US assertion that a combination of international terrorism and the spread of WMD posed new dangers around the globe. The combination of the two "would represent an additional threat to the international system with potentially uncontrollable consequences", said the EU foreign ministers' statement.