- America has hobbled an effort by Britain and other European
countries to persuade Iran to freeze its nuclear programme.
- Senior officials said privately that the US would not
offer economic or political concessions to woo Teheran.
- President George W Bush is trying to improve relations
with Europe and will visit London and Brussels next month.
- But in private, American officials are furious at the
European Union's "engagement" with Teheran. They say they will
not co-operate with what they see as the dangerous policy of giving the
regime "rewards for bad behaviour".
- The New Yorker magazine reported yesterday that teams
of US special forces had infiltrated Iran to scout suspected weapons sites
that would be targeted in future air strikes.
- Seymour Hersh, the magazine's award-winning journalist,
quoted a US official as saying that after Afghanistan and Iraq "we're
going to have the Iranian campaign".
- However, a senior US administration source said Mr Bush
was unlikely to take any decisions on dealing with Iran for the next six
months, while the issue was "blocked" by the European diplomatic
- Another well-placed US source said "military action
is only the last resort after other options have been exhausted".
- He said Washington wanted first to exert pressure on
Iran to halt its nuclear programme through an escalating series of diplomatic
and economic sanctions at the United Nations Security Council.
- Iran is widely believed to be pursuing a secret programme
to build a nuclear bomb. The nation says it only seeks to develop nuclear
power to save its oil reserves.
- Under an agreement in November between Iran and Britain,
France and Germany, Teheran was spared a referral to the security council
after it agreed to suspend "voluntarily" the most sensitive parts
of its nuclear programme: the enrichment of uranium and the reprocessing
of plutonium. In return, the Europeans made a commitment to improve relations.
- Working groups met in Geneva yesterday to discuss three
issues: Iran's nuclear programme; improved technological and economic co-operation;
and "firm commitments on security issues".
- The EU has agreed to move ahead with co-operation even
before an overall agreement is reached and has resumed talks on a trade
pact with Iran.
- But many of the benefits that Teheran seeks - advanced
technology, investment in its oil industry and greater international acceptance
- can be provided only with US agreement.
- The Europeans hoped to entice the new Bush administration
into the diplomatic process.
- American officials dismiss the idea out of hand. One
said the European effort was "comical". Another said the Iranians
would break out of whatever constraints the Europeans imposed.
- Washington believes that any concessions made by Teheran
are temporary, and often imposed by their own technical problems. British
officials admit their initiative is running into the sand.
- Without US support, the Europeans believe their initiative
is doomed and it will be only a matter of time before the Iranians resume
their nuclear activities.
- The US will not publicly denounce the initiative but
appears content to watch it collapse.
- It then hopes to bring the issue to the security council.
Britain says such a move would be pointless because any sanctions would
be blocked by Russia and China.
- © Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2005.